Shedding Light in the Darkness

Adverse Childhood Experiences Study – Chronic Migraine


The Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACE) Study is a fascinating ongoing collaboration between the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in Atlanta,  and Kaiser Permanente in San Diego.

More than 17,000 Kaiser patients volunteered to participate in the Study.  Data resulting from their participation continues to be analyzed –  it reveals staggering proof of the health, social, and economic risks that result from childhood trauma.

One of the findings – Children who experience maltreatment such as emotional, physical and sexual abuse are more likely to experience frequent headaches, including chronic migraine, as adults.

There are 10 types of childhood trauma measured in the ACE Study. Five are personal — physical abuse, verbal abuse, sexual abuse, physical neglect, and emotional neglect. Five are related to other family members: a parent who’s an alcoholic, a mother who’s a victim of domestic violence, a family member in jail, a family member diagnosed with a mental illness, and the disappearance of a parent through divorce, death or abandonment.

“We looked at eight ACEs — emotional, physical, or sexual abuse, witnessing domestic violence, growing up with mental illness in the home, having household members who were incarcerated or were abusing drugs, and experiencing parental separation or divorce,.” said Dr. Gretchen E. Tietjen, of the University of Toledo College Of Medicine. “Each ACE increased the chance of frequent headache, and as the number of ACEs increased, so did the risk of frequent headache. This ‘dose-response’ relationship’ suggests that ACEs may contribute to the development and frequency of severe headaches later in life.”

The primary finding:  “odds of migraine vs. episodic tension type headache were significantly higher for those reporting emotional neglect,emotional, or sexual abuse when adjusted for socio-demographics.”  Dr. Tietjen found that 17 – 24.5% of migraine patients reported these adverse childhood experiences.


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