Traumatic stressors and post-traumatic stress disorder symptoms in headache patients

Reny De Leeuw, John E. Schmidt, Charles R. Carlson

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

55 Scopus citations


Objective. - The aim of this study was to assess the prevalence of significant traumatic stressors and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) symptoms in a headache population. Background. - Several recent publications have emphasized the relationship between life stressors and/or daily hassles and recurrent headaches. However, little is known about the prevalence and impact of major traumatic stressors in patients with recurrent headaches. Methods. - Eighty patients with either migraine or tension-type headache completed a PTSD checklist. Data were compared with those from patients with chronic masticatory muscle pain of similar intensity and duration. Results. - Almost 64% of the headache patients reported one or more major traumatic stressors. This percentage was not significantly different from that of the comparison group, and fell within the broad range reported for exposure to traumatic stressors in epidemiologic studies with nonpatient populations. One out of 6 patients in the total headache sample, and 1 out of 4 of those reporting a traumatic stressor, reported symptoms suggestive of current PTSD. The prevalence of current PTSD-like symptomatology reported by the headache patients was comparable to that of the comparison group of the present study, but higher than that reported for the general population in the available literature printed in English. Traumatic stressors most often reported were not related to direct physical trauma, but rather associated with loss or serious illness of a loved one. Conclusion. - Exposure to traumatic events in patients with a primary diagnosis of recurrent headaches is similar to that reported for chronic masticatory muscle pain patients or nonpatient populations. However, symptoms consistent with a diagnosis of current PTSD appear to be more frequent in patients with recurrent headaches than reported in the scientific literature printed in English for nonpatient populations. Screening for PTSD symptomatology is recommended as part of the routine clinical evaluation of headache.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1365-1374
Number of pages10
Issue number10
StatePublished - 2005


  • Migraine
  • PTSD Check List-Civilian
  • Post-traumatic stress disorder
  • Tension-type headache

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Neurology
  • Clinical Neurology


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