Poorer Teens May Get More Migraines

Stress, Poor Diet, and Less Medical Care May Be Linked to Migraines in Teens

Medically Reviewed by Louise Chang, MD on July 02, 2007
From the WebMD Archives

July 2, 2007 -- Poorer teenagers may be more likely to suffer from migraine headaches than richer teens.

Genetics play a big part in determining the risk of developing painful migraine headaches, but a new study suggests that family income may also play a role in migraine risk.

"Possible factors associated with low socioeconomic status, such as stress, poor diet or limited access to medical care may be responsible for this increase," says researcher Marcelo E. Bigal, MD, PhD, of Albert Einstein College of Medicine in Bronx, N.Y., in a news release.

Migraines in Teens

Researchers looked at the prevalence of migraines in a group of more than 18,000 teens and their parents. Overall, 6.3% of the teens reported experiencing one or more migraines in the previous year.

As in adults, the prevalence of migraines in teens was higher among girls than boys and among whites vs. African-Americans.

Among teenagers who had a parent with migraines, about 8% of both high- and low-income teens had migraines.

But when researchers looked at teens who weren't genetically predisposed to migraines, they found family income played a major role, with 4.4% of low-income teens vs. 2.9% of high-income teens reporting migraines.

"It would seem that for those teens who have a genetic predisposition for migraine, the stressful life events related to income don't matter," says Bigal. "They're more likely than other teens to get migraine regardless of their socioeconomic status, since they are predisposed."

Researchers say psychiatric factors -- such as depression, anxiety, and substance abuse -- were not examined in this study and may help explain the results, which appear in Neurology.

"Our study also suggests that we should explore environmental risk factors, such as stressful events and nutrition, as they relate to low income and migraine to understand how we might reduce the occurrence of migraine among these individuals," says Bigal.

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SOURCES: Bigal, M. Neurology, July 3, 2007; vol 69: pp 16-25. News release, Albert Einstein College of Medicine. News release, American Academy of Neurology.

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