Age at menarche and risk of developing migraine or non-migraine headaches by young adulthood: A prospective cohort study

Cephalalgia. 2017 Nov;37(13):1257-1263. doi: 10.1177/0333102416677999. Epub 2016 Nov 12.


Importance Migraine is a highly prevalent and disabling primary headache disorder that is two to three times more prevalent in young women. Among females, there is a steep increase in incidence from puberty to young adulthood, but the mechanisms for the increase are unknown. Objective To determine if age of menarche is a risk factor for developing migraine headache vs. non-migraine headache by young adulthood. Design A prospective cohort study, The Growing Up Today Study (GUTS), of adolescents who have been followed since 1996, when they were nine, to 14 years of age. Headache questions were included on the 2007 and 2010 surveys. Setting Youth from across the United States who are offspring of women participating in the Nurses' Health Study II. Participants 6112 female participants who had provided data on headache symptoms, age at menarche and family history of migraine and were followed through 2007 or 2010 were included in this analysis. Main outcomes Migraine or non-migraine headache. Results Many females had a history of headaches, with approximately equal numbers reporting symptoms consistent with migraine (29.7%) and non-migraine headaches (25.3%). We found that, independent of age and family history of migraine, each one-year delay in onset of menarche decrease the odds of migraine by 7% (odds ratio (OR) = 0.93, 95% confidence interval (CI) 0.89-0.97), but was not related to non-migraine headaches. Conclusions and relevance The findings of this study suggest that early puberty increases the risk of developing migraines by young adulthood. As such, the study emphasizes the need for understanding the pathophysiological links between puberty and developmental changes that occur in the brain during that period and the mechanisms of onset of the migraine disease and its trajectory.

Keywords: Growing Up Today Study; Migraine; adolescence; age at menarche; puberty.

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Child
  • Cohort Studies
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Menarche*
  • Migraine Disorders / epidemiology*
  • Prospective Studies
  • Risk Factors
  • Surveys and Questionnaires