More threads by David Baxter PhD

David Baxter PhD

Late Founder
Childhood sexual abuse increases female migrainers depression risk
Wed, Sep 5 2007

Childhood abuse is more common in women with migraine who suffer depression than in women with migraine alone, according to a study published in the current issue of Neurology, the medical journal of the American Academy of Neurology.

"This study confirms adverse experiences, particularly childhood abuse, predispose women to health problems later in life, possibly by altering neurobiological systems," said study author Gretchen Tietjen, MD, with the University of Toledo-Health Science Campus and a member of the American Academy of Neurology.

Researchers surveyed 949 women with migraine about their history of abuse, depression and headache characteristics. Forty percent of the women had chronic headache, more than 15 headaches a month, and 72 percent reported very severe headache-related disability. Physical or sexual abuse was reported in 38 percent of the women and 12 percent reported both physical and sexual abuse in the past. These results for abuse are similar to rates reported in the general population.

The association between migraine and depression is well established, but the mechanism is uncertain. The study found women with migraine who had major depression were twice as likely as those with migraine alone to report being sexually abused as a child. If the abuse continued past age 12, the women with migraine were five times more likely to report depression.

"The finding that a variety of somatic symptoms were also more common in people with migraine who had a history of abuse suggests that childhood maltreatment may lead to a spectrum of disorders, which have been linked to serotonin dysfunction," said Tietjen.

"Our findings contribute to the mounting data that show abuse in childhood has a powerful effect on adult health disorders and the effect intensifies when abuse lasts a long time or continues into adulthood," said Tietjen. "The findings also support research suggesting that sexual abuse may have more impact on health than physical abuse and that childhood sexual abuse victims, in particular, are more likely to be adversely affected."

The study also found women with depression and migraine were twice as likely to report multiple types of abuse as a child compared to those without depression, including physical abuse, fear for life, and being in a home with an adult who abused alcohol or drugs.

"Despite the high prevalence of abuse and the increased health costs associated with it, few physicians routinely ask migraine patients about abuse history," said Tietjen. "By questioning women about their abuse history we'll be able to better identify those women with migraine at increased risk for depression."

Source: Tietjen GE, Brandes JL, Digre KB, Baggaley S, et al. History of childhood maltreatment is associated with comorbid depression in women with migraine Neurology 2007 69:959-68 [Abstract]


Very interesting, here my ex thought my extreme headaches were just an excuse for "not tonight, I have a headache" but not once has any doctor asked about abuse, just handed me pain meds. I had extreme physical, emotional and sexual abuse. The migraines would knock me off my feet for days. The doctors said that it was stress or my nerves causing the migraines yet they never once asked about abuse, interesting.
that is very interesting my mother would always say that it runs in the familly so it is genetic but now that i think of it her father abused her and her sisters and each and everyone of them has migrains.


I'm not one to suffer with migraines; however, I did have a few when I was a young woman in my early twenties. I was married to an emotionally abusive drunk. I got a headache that literally knocked me off my feet. I couldn't stand up for the pain. Any change of position was accompanied by pounding pain and nausea. After several days of this, and no relief in sight, I called my doctor's office. My regular doctor was out of town, so the doc who was standing in for him called in a prescription. It did absolutely no good. I called back. He called in another prescription. Still, no help. I called back and found my own doctor had returned. He took a look at what I'd been given and told me to go immediately to the Emergency Department of the hospital. He'd meet me there.

I was hospitalized. A lumbar puncture was done. They gave me Demerol, which had no effect on the headache but caused me to lose sensation in my feet. Finally, when the results of all the tests were in, the doctor came in to see me. His words were: "You can divorce that headache, you know." I'll never forget him. He was a wonderful, insightful doctor and his words gave me the courage to do what I needed to do.

Yep. I can certainly believe the premise of this article.


Yes, David, he really was a wise man, and a very gentle, caring one, as well. In so many ways, I can thank him for who, and what, I am today. :)
Replying is not possible. This forum is only available as an archive.