Attachment style correlates with headache features and psychological symptoms in children and adolescents with migraines

Italian researchers published a study in the journal Headache that attempted to correlate the attachment style in children with migraines with headache severity and psychological symptoms.

Attachment style typically develops in the first year of life. The premise of the study was derived from the attachment theory which suggests that early interpersonal relationships may determine future psychological problems and painful conditions. Previous studies have shown that people with insecure attachment styles tend to experience more pain than people with secure attachment style.

The study involved 90 children with migraines. The mean age was 12 years and there were 54 girls and 36 boys in the study. The kids were divided into a group with very frequent headaches (1 to 7 a week) and those with infrequent attacks – 3 or fewer per month. They also grouped them into those with severe pain, which interrupted their daily activities and those with mild pain that allowed them to function normally. The children were tested for anxiety, depression, and somatization (tendency to have physical complaints as a manifestation of psychological distress). They were also evaluated for the attachment style and were assigned into “secure,” “avoidant,” “ambivalent,” and “disorganized/confused” groups.

Interestingly, the researchers found a significant relationship between the attachment style and migraine features. Ambivalent attachment was present in 51% of children with high frequency of attacks and in 50% of those with severe pain. Anxiety, depression, and somatization were higher in patients with ambivalent attachment style. They also showed an association between high attack frequency and high anxiety levels in children with ambivalent attachment style.

The authors concluded: “We found that the ambivalent attachment style is associated with more severe migraine and higher psychological symptoms. These results can have therapeutic consequences. Given the high risk of developing severe headache and psychological distress, special attention should be paid to children with migraine showing an ambivalent pattern of attachment style. Indeed, a prophylactic and psychological therapy could often be necessary for these patients.”

People who have an anxious–ambivalent attachment style show a high desire for intimacy but often feel reluctant about becoming close to others and worry that people will not reciprocate their feelings. It is possible to mitigate the negative effects of the ambivalent attachment style even in adulthood. It does require a major effort and help from a psychotherapist.

  1. Dr. Mauskop says: 02/02/201711:16 am

    I would like to point out that the attachment style is only a predisposing factor. Psychotherapy can be of great help, but it should be a part of comprehensive approach, which includes regular sleep, healthy diet, not having too many after-school activities, regular exercise, magnesium and other supplements, and if needed, Botox injections and medications.

  2. Dr. Mauskop, I cannot thank you enough for this article. It helps to explain why my 12-year-old is experiencing severe and frequent migraines with her ambivalent "attachment style." I will look for a psychotherapist to see if it would help her. We are d says: 02/02/201710:43 am
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