Children with migraines are much more inclined to suffer from behavioral issues, such as anxiety, depression, and social and attention issues than those who do not have headaches.

The more recurrent the headaches, the more likely the chance of a behavioral disorder developing, according to the new study published in Cephalagia.

Marco Arruda, director of the Glia Institute in São Paulo, Brazil, together with Marcelo Bigal of the Albert Einstein College of Medicine in New York, conducted a study of 1,856 Brazilian children ages 5 to 11 which looked at the connection of emotional symptoms with migraine and tension-type headaches (TTH).

The study used headache surveys, in addition to the Child Behavior Checklist (CBCL), to measure emotional symptoms. The researchers instructed teachers how to walk parents through the questionnaires, step by step.

Children with migraines had a much greater probability of irregular behavioral scores than children without headaches, primarily in social, anxiety-depressive, internalizing, and attention areas.

Children with TTH were affected in the same areas, but to a lesser extent. With more frequency of headaches, abnormal behavioral scores increased. Over half of the migraine sufferers had issues with internalizing behaviors. Externalizing behaviors, such as breaking rules or becoming aggressive, were no more likely among the children with headaches. The authors advised that the CBCL may not be efficient enough to measure this correlation in detail.

Arruda explains:

“As previously reported by others, we found that migraine was associated with social problems. The ‘social’ domain identifies difficulties in social engagement as well as infantilized behavior for the age and this may be associated with important impact on the personal and social life.”

Children frequently suffer from migraines, which affect over three percent to one fifth of children from early childhood to adolescence. Earlier research has suggested that children with migraines are more likely to have other psychological and physical problems, including depression, anxiety, hyperactivity, and attention disorders.

Authors suggest including factors, such as headache frequency, is important, although often left out of studies – until recently. Health providers can now be aware of this possibility in children and properly treat the problem.

Written by Kelly Fitzgerald