Child Abuse May Lead to Adult Migraines and Pain Disorders


Researchers from the American Headache Society's Women's Issues Section Research Consortium found that children who were abused and neglected have higher incidence of migraines and pain disorders. In addition, the same research has found that people who suffer from migraines and have a history of abuse tend to show more signs of adjacent, related conditions than patients without such a history. The findings carry considerable implications, and should be of use to policymakers in designing new laws to protect children from their own parents or relatives.

Dr. Gretchen E. Tietjen, M.D, from the University of Toledo Medical Center, and colleagues, did a cross-sectional survey of headache clinic patients with physician-diagnosed migraine at 11 outpatient headache centers. The Trauma Questionnaire (CTQ), a 28-item self-reported quantitative measure of childhood abuse (physical, sexual, and emotional) and neglect (physical and emotional) was given to 1348 participants to fill out.

Researchers discovered that people with migraines reported childhood abuse or neglect had a significantly higher incidence of comorbid pain conditions. The study was able to specify the abuse with the pain condition, for example, physical abuse was associated with a higher incidence of arthritis; emotional abuse was linked to a greater occurrence of IBS, CFS, FM, and arthritis; and physical neglect connected with more reports of IBS, CFS, IC, and arthritis. In women, physical abuse and physical neglect was associated with endometriosis (EM) and uterine fibroids, emotional abuse with EM, and emotional neglect with uterine fibroids.


“Our study found that while childhood maltreatment is associated with depression, the child abuse-adult pain relationship is not fully mediated by depression,” Tietjen said. “Since migraine onset preceded onset of the comorbid pain conditions in our population, treatment strategies such as cognitive behavioral therapy may be particularly well suited in these cases,” Tietjen says.

She believes that doctors should take an interest in the childhood history of their patients, if those coming in for a check-up complain of migraines. The scientist says that this could help healthcare professional establish the risk degree of those people developing comorbid pain disorders, which could be caught and treated early on in their development.

Child abuse and neglect are, unfortunately, still very present in today’s society. In fact, in the United States, the U.S. Department of Health has said that in 2007, state and local child protective services investigated over three million reports of abuse or neglect. According to the study, 61% of those children will suffer from migraines and pain disorders.

Full findings of the study appear in the January 2010 issue of Headache: The Journal of Head and Face Pain, published on behalf of the American Headache Society.