Childhood Trauma Raises Odds for Adult Headaches

Childhood Trauma Raises Odds for Adult Headaches
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Key Takeaways

  • Childhood trauma appears to be a risk factor for developing headaches in adulthood

  • Among more than 48,000 adults who reported at least one traumatic event in their youth, 26% were diagnosed with a headache disorder

  • That compared to just 12% of adults who hadn't gone through any trauma as children

THURSDAY, Oct. 26, 2023 (HealthDay News) -- Children who live through trauma may be prone to having headaches as an adult.

New research found an association between headache disorders and traumatic events in childhood, such as abuse, neglect or household dysfunction.

“Traumatic events in childhood can have serious health implications later in life,” said study author Catherine Kreatsoulas, of Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health in Boston. “Our meta-analysis confirms that childhood traumatic events are important risk factors for headache disorders in adulthood, including migraine, tension headaches, cluster headaches and chronic or severe headaches. This is a risk factor that we cannot ignore.”

Her team conducted a meta-analysis of 28 studies that included more than 154,000 people in 19 countries.

Among them, more than 48,000 people reported at least one traumatic event. Nearly 25,000 people were diagnosed with primary headaches.

About 26% of those with a traumatic childhood event were diagnosed with a primary headache disorder, compared to 12% of participants who had no trauma.

Those who experienced childhood trauma were 48% more likely to have headache disorders as those who had not had those experiences.

As the number of traumatic childhood events increased, the odds of having headaches also increased, the study found.

When compared to people who had not experienced childhood trauma, people who had experienced one type of traumatic event had a 24% increased risk of a headache disorder. But people who had four or more traumatic events were more than twice as likely to have a headache disorder.

Researchers also categorized the types of traumas into different groups.

Physical, sexual and emotional abuse, as well as witnessing threats of violence and serious family conflicts were categorized as “threat traumas.”

Neglect, economic adversities, having an incarcerated household member, divorce or separation, parental death and living in a household with mental illness, chronic disability or disease, or alcohol or substance abuse were considered deprivation traumas.

Threat traumas were linked to a 46% increase in headaches. Deprivation traumas were linked to a 35% increase in headaches.

Specific threat traumas, physical and sexual abuse, were linked to a 60% increased risk for headaches. For deprivation traumas, those who experienced neglect in childhood had an almost threefold increased risk for headache disorders.

The researchers pointed out that only an association was seen between past trauma and future headaches, rather than a cause-and-effect link.

The findings were published Oct. 25 in the journal Neurology.

“This meta-analysis highlights that childhood traumatic events categorized as threat or deprivation traumas are important and independent risk factors for headache disorders in adulthood,” Kreatsoulas said in a journal news release.

“Identifying the specific types of childhood experiences may help guide prevention and treatment strategies for one of the leading disabling disorders worldwide. A comprehensive public health plan and clinical intervention strategies are needed to address these underlying traumatic childhood events,” she added.

“It is important to note that the true estimate of the association is likely higher due to the sensitive nature of reporting childhood traumatic events,” Kreatsoulas said.

More information

The U.S. National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke has more on headaches.

SOURCE: American Academy of Neurology, news release, Oct. 25, 2023

What This Means For You

Experiencing childhood trauma may be linked to developing headaches in adulthood, new research warns.

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