Objectives: Recurrent headache co-occurs commonly with psychological distress, such as anxiety or depression. Potentially traumatic interpersonal events (PTIEs) could represent important precursors of psychological distress and recurrent headache in adolescents. Our objective was to assess the hypothesised association between exposure to PTIEs and recurrent migraine and tension-type headache (TTH) in adolescents, and to further examine the potential impact of psychological distress on this relationship.
Design: Population-based, cross-sectional cohort study. The study includes self-reported data from youth on exposure to potentially traumatic events, psychological distress and a validated interview on headache.
Setting: The adolescent part of the Nord-Trøndelag Health Study 2006–2008 (HUNT), conducted in Norway.
Participants: A cohort of 10 464 adolescents were invited to the study. Age ranged from 12 to 20 years. The response rate was 73% (7620), of whom 50% (3832) were girls.
Main outcome measures: Data from the headache interview served as the outcome. Recurrent headache was defined as headache recurring at least monthly during the past year, and was subclassified into monthly, weekly and daily complaints. Subtypes were classified as TTH, migraine, migraine with TTH and/or non-classifiable headache, in accordance with the International Classification of Headache Disorders criteria, second edition.
Results: Multiple logistic regression analysis, adjusted for sociodemographics, showed consistently significant associations between exposure to PTIEs and recurrent headache, regardless of the frequency or subtype of headache. Increasing exposure to PTIEs was associated with higher prevalence of recurrent headache, indicating a dose–response relationship. The strength of associations between exposure to PTIEs and all recurrent headache disorders was significantly attenuated when psychological distress was entered into the regression equation.
Conclusions: The empirical evidence of a strong and cumulative relationship between exposure to PTIEs, psychological distress and recurrent headache indicates a need for the integration of somatic and psychological healthcare services for adolescents in the prevention, assessment and treatment of recurrent headache. Prospective studies are needed.