03 March 2009

Migraines linked to depression in children

New research has shown that children who suffer with migraines risk developing emotional and behavioural problems such as depression and anxiety.

The Research Institute at Nationwide Children’s Hospital in the USA has published new data that proves a link between children suffering from migraine and emotional disorders like depression. According to the study, “children suffering from migraines are at risk of developing emotional and behavioural problems such as depression and anxiety".

The study, published in the latest edition of the medical journal Headache, tested child functioning with comparison to children who are not experiencing headaches or migraines. The results showed that children suffering from migraines were “demonstrating significant elevations in total behaviour problems and internalizing symptoms, including somatic complaints, anxiety and depression, and aggressive behaviour".

According to Dr Elliot Shevel, South Africa’s migraine surgery pioneer, it is vital that parents do not dismiss headache complaints in children without proper investigation.

"Young children believe everything the parent says.” stated Shevel. “If you tell your child ‘you’re just making this up’ your child will believe you and start internalizing self blame. Internalizing this self blame for a medical condition over which the child has no control has been shown to cause serious psychological and emotional problems for the child.”

There is therefore a great deal of concern regarding the emotional–wellbeing of children with migraine, as these disturbances can result in children being misdiagnosed with depression, without proper treatment of their headache or migraine problem.

Headaches affect children's lives
This new ground breaking study was a result of numerous calls made by the international headache community for rigorous research to help clarify the association of paediatric migraine with emotional and behavioural outcomes. The study is ground breaking in this respect as the data was verified by the use of a control group of families recruited from among class mates of the children suffering with migraines.

In an interview from Berlin where he is conducting research Shevel stated that “The prevalence of paediatric headache was determined in a study published in the British Medical Journal in 1994. According to the statistics about 10% of children suffer with headaches that seriously affect the quality of their lives.

“This new research is also a multi-centre study,” states Shevel “which means that data was collected simultaneously from three leading children’s hospitals across the USA. So the data is incredibly robust and reliable.

“Self reporting by the child was tabled against data collected from both parents.” explains Shevel further. This was another essential breakthrough in the research, as according to the study “children coping with chronic health conditions may be reluctant to acknowledge or disclose emotional distress”.

Long-term damage if not treated
“We’re relieved that after 16 years treating children with migraine at The Headache Clinic our experience of the psychological consequences of the condition has been validated by the contents of this powerful research. Parents who do not take children’s headache and migraine complaints seriously risk causing long term emotional damage to their child. Parents must remember that children suffer just as severely as adults if they are afflicted with this condition.”

Parents often ask how to tell whether their child’s condition is serious or not. According to Shevel “Only an independent, scientifically accurate assessment tool can give accurate information. The Migraine Specific Quality of Life Questionnaire, or MSQOL, is used by medical journals and is very simple and easy to use. It is a 14-point multiple choice questionnaire that provides an instant electronic result.”

The MSQOL is available free of charge at and will take less than five minutes to complete. Both the parent and the child should complete the questionnaire independently. The results appear immediately and if the scores are less than 90% then the problem should be taken seriously. – (Press release, The Migraine Research Institute and The Headache Clinic, March 2009)


Read Health24’s Comments Policy

Comment on this story
Comments have been closed for this article.

Ask the Expert

Headache expert

Dr Elliot Shevel is a South African migraine surgery pioneer and the founder and medical director of The Headache Clinic in Johannesburg, Durban and Cape Town, South Africa. The Headache Clinic is a multidisciplinary practice dedicated to the diagnosis and treatment of Primary Headaches and Migraines. Dr Shevel is also the main author of all scientific publications generated by his team. He recently won a high level science debate in which he was able to prove that the current migraine diagnosis and classification is not based on data. Tertiary Education - Dr Shevel holds both Dental and Medical degrees, and practises as a specialist Maxillo-facial and Oral Surgeon. Follow the Headache Clinic on Twitter@HeadacheClinic.

Still have a question?

Get free advice from our panel of experts

The information provided does not constitute a diagnosis of your condition. You should consult a medical practitioner or other appropriate health care professional for a physical exmanication, diagnosis and formal advice. Health24 and the expert accept no responsibility or liability for any damage or personal harm you may suffer resulting from making use of this content.

* You must accept our condition

Forum Rules