Media Releases

Childhood adversities, including witnessing parental domestic violence, linked to later migraines

June 25, 2015

TORONTO, ON – Adults who were exposed to childhood adversity, including witnessing parental domestic violence, or experiencing childhood physical and sexual abuse, have higher odds of experiencing migraine headaches in adulthood, according to a new study from researchers at the University of Toronto.

“We found the more types of violence the individual had been exposed to during their childhood, the greater the odds of migraine. For those who reported all three types of adversities—parental domestic violence, childhood physical and sexual abuse—the odds of migraine were a little over three times higher for men and just under three times higher for women,” said Sarah Brennenstuhl, PhD, first author of the study.

Investigators examined a nationally representative sample of 12,638 women and 10,358 men aged 18 and over from the 2012 Canadian Community Health Survey-Mental Health.

“The most surprising finding was the link between exposure to parental domestic violence and migraines. Even after accounting for variables including age, race, socioeconomic status, history of depression and anxiety, and childhood physical and sexual abuse, men and women who had witnessed parental domestic violence had 52% and 64% higher odds of migraine, respectively, compared to those without such a history,” says co-author Professor Esme Fuller-Thomson, who also holds the Sandra Rotman Endowed Chair at University of Toronto’s Factor-Inwentash Faculty of Social Work.

The study was published online this week in the journal Headache.

“The cross-sectional design of our study does not allow us to determine if the association between early adversities and migraines is causative, but our findings do underline the importance of future prospective studies investigating the long-term physical health of children exposed to parental domestic violence,” says Fuller-Thomson.


For more information contact:

Prof. Esme Fuller-Thomson
Professor & Sandra Rotman Endowed Chair
Factor-Inwentash Faculty of Social Work &
Department of Family & Community Medicine
University of Toronto
Cell: 416-209-3231

Michael Kennedy
Media Relations
University of Toronto
Office: 416-946-5025