Childhood headache, stress in adolescence, and primary headache in young adulthood: a longitudinal cohort study

Headache. 2001 Jan;41(1):1-10. doi: 10.1046/j.1526-4610.2001.111006001.x.


Objectives: To determine the association between childhood history of headache, adolescent stress, and headache syndromes (determined by International Headache Society criteria) in young adulthood.

Background: The association between stress and tension-type headache has recently been challenged. Little is known about stress and other headache subtypes, particularly among young people from the general population.

Design: Members of the longitudinal Dunedin Multidisciplinary Health and Development Study participated in this study. Study members were asked about headache characteristics/symptoms at aged 26 (96% of the living cohort), and historical records were examined to ascertain headache history (younger than 12 years) and the reporting of stressful life events at aged 15 years.

Results: Study members with childhood headache were significantly more likely to report adolescent stress than those without headache. High-intensity stress during mid adolescence increased the likelihood of migraine diagnosis. In those with combined headache (migraine as well as tension-type headache), this relation held only for those with a history of headache. Stress associated with bodily changes during mid adolescence was the only significant predictor of tension-type headache.

Conclusions: Childhood headaches are related to the appraisal of life events reported during mid adolescence. Childhood headaches also appear to confer a specific risk for the development of combined headache. There was little evidence for a prospective relation between stress in mid adolescence and tension-type headache in young adulthood, supporting claims that proximal (rather than distal) stress is associated with this disorder.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Adult
  • Age Factors
  • Child
  • Chronic Disease
  • Female
  • Headache / diagnosis
  • Headache / psychology*
  • Humans
  • Longitudinal Studies
  • Male
  • Migraine Disorders / diagnosis
  • Migraine Disorders / psychology*
  • New Zealand
  • Risk Factors
  • Stress, Psychological* / etiology
  • Tension-Type Headache / psychology