Researchers in Italy recently conducted a study which aimed to find out if a mother’s stress would have an impact on the migraine intensity and frequency experienced by children.
The study authors stated that it was “important to consider that parental stress can affect the child’s emotional disturbances, and this, in turn, can negatively affect the child’s pain perception. Therefore, investigating the relationship between migraine in the child and primary caregiver stress is crucial for the proper management of this condition.” The authors did say that the study was limited in that it did not gather information on the stress levels of fathers too, but said that “the choice to analyse only mothers’ stress levels arose from literature data which reported that mothers are more vulnerable to stress than fathers.”
For the study, a total of 474 mothers between the ages of 31 and 55 were involved in the study – with 237 of them having children between the ages of 6 and 12 years old who suffer migraine without aura, and 237 of them being mothers of children between the ages of 6 and 12 years old who did not suffer from any form of migraine.
The participants used the Parent Stress Index -Short Form to assess their stress levels. This index is a questionnaire which gives scores based on; 1 – parental distress (stress in general), 2 – parent-child interaction (the stress caused by parent and child interaction), and 3 – difficult child (the stress of managing a child who appears to be more problematic than the parent expected).
As expected, the study found that mothers of children with migraines had a greater level of stress. The study also found that higher levels of maternal stress were correlated with a higher frequency and greater intensity of migraine attacks in the children, though not in attacks being of longer duration.
Although the authors did say that the more intensely a child suffered, the more stressed their mother was, they also said that “it is conceivable that maternal stress, in turn, can increase the stress of the child, affecting the severity of the migraine.” So, it is not clear though whether the greater stress felt by the mothers was a contributing factor to the attacks experienced by their children being more frequent and intense, or whether the greater level of stress was simply a result of their child experiencing more intense migraine attacks. However, the authors did conclude that children suffering from migraine without aura “may be more likely to benefit from behavioral interventions to improve stress assessment and coping strategies for treatment.”