Childhood maltreatment and migraine (part II). Emotional abuse as a risk factor for headache chronification

Gretchen E. Tietjen, Jan L. Brandes, B. Lee Peterlin, Arnolda Eloff, Rima M. Dafer, Michael R. Stein, Ellen Drexler, Vincent T. Martin, Susan Hutchinson, Sheena K. Aurora, Ana Recober, Nabeel A. Herial, Christine Utley, Leah White, Sadik A. Khuder

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

76 Scopus citations


Objectives. - To assess in a headache clinic population the relationship of childhood abuse and neglect with migraine characteristics, including type, frequency, disability, allodynia, and age of migraine onset. Background. - Childhood maltreatment is highly prevalent and has been associated with recurrent headache. Maltreatment is associated with many of the same risk factors for migraine chronification, including depression and anxiety, female sex, substance abuse, and obesity. Methods. - Electronic surveys were completed by patients seeking treatment in headache clinics at 11 centers across the United States and Canada. Physician-determined data for all participants included the primary headache diagnoses based on the International Classification of Headache Disorders-2 criteria, average monthly headache frequency, whether headaches transformed from episodic to chronic, and if headaches were continuous. Analysis includes all persons with migraine with aura, and migraine without aura. Questionnaire collected information on demographics, social history, age at onset of headaches, migraine-associated allodynic symptoms, headache-related disability (The Headache Impact Test-6), current depression (The Patient Health Questionnaire-9), and current anxiety (The Beck Anxiety Inventory). History and severity of childhood (<18 years) abuse (sexual, emotional, and physical) and neglect (emotional and physical) was gathered using the Childhood Trauma Questionnaire. Results. - A total of 1348 migraineurs (88% women) were included (mean age 41 years). Diagnosis of migraine with aura was recorded in 40% and chronic headache (≥15 days/month) was reported by 34%. Transformation from episodic to chronic was reported by 26%. Prevalence of current depression was 28% and anxiety was 56%. Childhood maltreatment was reported as follows: physical abuse 21%, sexual abuse 25%, emotional abuse 38%, physical neglect 22%, and emotional neglect 38%. In univariate analyses, physical abuse and emotional abuse and neglect were significantly associated with chronic migraine and transformed migraine. Emotional abuse was also associated with continuous daily headache, severe headache-related disability, and migraine-associated allodynia. After adjusting for sociodemographic factors and current depression and anxiety, there remained an association between emotional abuse in childhood and both chronic (odds ratio [OR] = 1.77, 95% confidence intervals [CI]: 1.19-2.62) and transformed migraine (OR = 1.89, 95% CI: 1.25-2.85). Childhood emotional abuse was also associated with younger median age of headache onset (16 years vs 19 years, P =.0002). Conclusion. - Our findings suggest that physical abuse, emotional abuse, and emotional neglect may be risk factors for development of chronic headache, including transformed migraine. The association of maltreatment and headache frequency appears to be independent of depression and anxiety, which are related to both childhood abuse and chronic daily headache. The finding that emotional abuse was associated with an earlier age of migraine onset may have implications for the role of stress responses in migraine pathophysiology.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)32-41
Number of pages10
Issue number1
StatePublished - Jan 2010
Externally publishedYes


  • Chronification
  • Emotional abuse
  • Headache

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Neurology
  • Clinical Neurology


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