Childhood trauma linked to adult headaches

January - February, 2009  |  Volume 8, Issue 1

Drastic events in childhood are associated with chronic headaches and depression later in life, a team of researchers partially funded by Fogarty has determined.

“This finding is the first of its kind to show in a large cross-national community sample that the association between childhood family adversities and adult onset of headache is independent of mental disorders,” concluded the team of 14 researchers led by Fogarty grantee Dr. Ronald C. Kessler.

“Although mental disorder was still independently associated with headache, distinct associations of both types of predictors with headache have not been demonstrated in previous studies,” said the study, published in the British Journal of Psychiatry.

In interviews with more than 18,000 people in 10 countries of Latin and North America, Europe and Asia, the researchers found 11.3 percent of people suffer from headaches and 9.1 percent had early-onset depression or anxiety disorder.

Overall, 43.2 percent of adults with headaches reported a “childhood family adversity”—as high as 64.5 percent in Colombia and 28.5 percent in Spain.

Not all “childhood family adversities” equally predicted risk, however. “Sexual and physical abuse, parental mental and substance disorders and family antisocial behaviors showed the most robust associations with risk of adult-onset headache,” the study found.

“Parental death, divorce and economic adversity were not significantly related,” the article said. “This is different from a previous case-control study, which found significant associations between migraine and parental divorce and chronic financial difficulties in the family after adjustment for education, self-reported general physical health and depression.”

Study subjects came from Belgium,. Colombia, France, Germany, Italy, Japan, Mexico, The Netherlands, Spain and the United States.

“Association of headache with childhood adversity and mental disorder: cross-national study.” Sing Lee, Adley Tsang, Michael Von Korff et al. Br J Psychiatry 2009 194: 111-116.

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