Parents' Mental Woes Raise Teens' Migraine Risk

Adolescent girls of parents with depression or a variety of psychopathology, including antisocial behavior and drug dependence, are at risk for migraine headaches, new research suggests.

"We looked at families — parents and teenage girls — to see how migraine headaches and mental health problems were linked across generations," Dr. Naomi R. Marmorstein from Rutgers University, Camden, New Jersey, explained in comments to Reuters Health.

The study involved 674 17-year-old girls and their biological parents. The researchers limited their study population to adolescent girls due to the low prevalence of migraine in adolescent boys.

According to the investigators, teen girls of parents who suffered from depression, antisocial behavior, or alcohol or drug dependence had markedly higher rates of migraine headache, compared with teen girls whose parents did not have these problems.

"Because prior research has shown a link between migraines and depression, and because both migraines and depression tend to run in families, we were not surprised to see elevated rates of migraine headaches in girls whose parent(s) had histories of depression," Marmorstein said.

"We were more surprised, though, to find elevated rates of migraine headaches in girls whose parent(s) had histories of antisocial behavior (for example, law-breaking behavior) and/or drug dependence," she added.

The identified associations, Marmorstein said, were "quite robust; they remained significant even when the research team statistically adjusted for the effects of migraines in parents and the corresponding type of mental health problem in the adolescents."

In contrast, there were no significant associations between parents' psychopathology and adolescents' stomach problems. "You might think that the stress of having a parent with a mental health problem could relate to both headaches and stomachaches in children," Marmorstein explained.

"However, there were not robust associations between parents' mental health problems and offspring stomach problems, indicating that these links did not extend to all types of somatic problems in the girls," she added. Somatic problems are physical problems that can be a manifestation of emotional problems.

These findings, the researchers conclude, "emphasize the need to look at antisocial behaviour and substance-related problems when examining associations between migraine and psychopathology, and indicate that more research on inter-generational links between migraine and psychopathology is needed."