Trauma in childhood may increase risk of adult headache disorders

October 27, 2023—People who have experienced traumatic events in childhood may be more likely to experience headache disorders as adults, according to a new meta-analysis co-authored by Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health’s Catherine Kreatsoulas.

The study was published on October 25 in Neurology.

“Given that primary headaches are among the leading causes of disability worldwide, and the high global prevalence of childhood traumas, we wanted to investigate if there was a link,” Kreatsoulas, an instructor in the Department of Health Policy and Management, told Gizmodo in an October 26 article about the study.

Kreatsoulas and her co-authors examined the findings of 28 studies involving 154,739 participants throughout 19 countries. Among these total participants, 31% reported at least one traumatic childhood event and 16% were diagnosed with primary headaches in adulthood. Among those who’d experience childhood trauma, 26% were diagnosed with a primary headache disorder as an adult, compared to 12% of participants who had not reported any traumatic childhood events. The researchers concluded that experiencing at least one traumatic event in childhood increased people’s risk of an adult headache disorder by 48%.

They also observed that as the number of childhood traumatic events experienced increased, so did people’s odds of developing a headache disorder. Different types of trauma also had different levels of impact: The researchers linked threat traumas, such as abuse or violence, to a 46% increased risk in headache disorders, and linked deprivation traumas, such as neglect or death of a parent, to a 35% increased risk.

While the study only shows a correlation, rather than causation, Kreatsoulas told Gizmodo the study offers an opportunity to examine how care for children who’ve experienced trauma and headache patients can be improved. “We suggest improving collaboration between neurology practices and psychiatry and psychology practices to address childhood traumas from multiple points of care,” she said.

Read the article in Gizmodo: Childhood Trauma Might Raise Risk of Headaches in Adulthood