Adverse childhood experiences, called ACEs, can lead to a variety of health problems later in life. Now, researchers say children who experience abuse or neglect are more likely to develop migraines rather than tension-type headaches, which tend to be milder than migraines.

“The percentage of people who were emotionally abused or neglected or experienced sexual abuse was significantly higher among people with migraine than in those who had tension-type headache,” said study author Gretchen E. Tietjen, MD, of the University of Toledo Headache Center in Ohio. “Emotional abuse showed the strongest link.”

For the study, researchers evaluated more than 8,300 individuals with migraine and 1,400 with tension-type headache, utilizing data from the American Migraine Prevalence and Prevention (AMPP) Study, a large study beginning in 2004, which was supported by the NHF.

  • Nearly 25% percent of those with migraine had experienced emotional abuse during childhood, compared to nearly 22% percent of those with tension-type headache.
  • Individuals who experienced emotional abuse before age 18 were 33% more likely to suffer migraine headaches instead of tension-type headache.
  • Subjects who experienced two forms of abuse were 50% more likely to report migraine than those who experienced one form of abuse.
  • Individuals who had experienced emotional neglect and sexual abuse were also more likely to experience migraine as adults. However, after researchers adjusted the results to consider anxiety and depression, no difference was noted between the groups.

Fellow author Dawn C. Buse, PhD, of Montefiore Headache Center and the Albert Einstein College of Medicine, recommends that health care professionals consider the possibility of childhood maltreatment when caring for patients with migraine and prescribe treatment accordingly.