Depression in Women with Migraine Linked to Childhood Abuse

by Teri Robert, Lead Expert

“My main message from this work is that a history of abuse is more common in persons with migraine, depression, and other painful symptoms than in those with migraine alone. It is possible that abuse, by causing great stress, changes the brain and brain chemistry, and makes one more susceptible to pain and depression. Having a better understanding of how this occurs will aid in the development of better treatment.”2

Gretchen Tietjen, MD

According to a study published in the September 4, 2007, issue of Neurology®, the medical journal of the American Academy of Neurology, childhood abuse is more common in women with Migraine who suffer depression than in women with Migraine alone.  

“This study confirms adverse experiences, particularly childhood abuse, predispose women to health problems later in life, possibly by altering neurobiological systems… 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.”

study author Gretchen Tietjen, MD

University of Toledo-Health Science Campus

member of the American Academy of Neurology

Study methods

Women with Migraine disease from six headache and Migraine clinics were diagnosed using the International Headache Society's International Classification of Headache Disorders, 2nd Edition (ICHD-II) criteria, and frequency was recorded. A questionnaire was completed for each participant regarding:

  • maltreatment history – physical abuse, sexual abuse, fear for life related to the abuse;
  • Migraine characteristics, using a disability scale, the Headache Impact Test (HIT 6);
  • current depression, using the Personal Health Questionnaire 9 (PHQ 9);
  • and somatic symptoms (physical symptoms, which mimic physical illness and may occur at times of psychological stress), using the Personal Health Questionnaire 15 (PHQ 15).

The PHQ 9 and the PHQ 15 are derived from the self-administered Patient Health Questionnaire of the PRIME-MD, which is used for making criteria-based diagnoses of mental health disorders.

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