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Researchers Suggest Early Female Puberty May Be 'Big Bang Theory' For Migraine

Vincent Martin, M.D., professor at the University of Cincinnati College of Medicine, explains how early puberty may cause migraine in girls.
Joe Fuqua
UC Creative Services
Vincent Martin, M.D., professor at the University of Cincinnati College of Medicine, explains how early puberty may cause migraine in girls.

A new study suggests girls who reach puberty at earlier ages may be at greater risk for migraine headaches. Vincent Martin, M.D., with UC's College of Medicine presented the findings at the American Headache Society's annual meeting.

Prior studies show a connection between menstruation and migraine, but Martin points out "even before that, when girls first start developing breast bud development, that that was a time period where girls also had more migraine, which has never been shown before."

The study followed girls in Cincinnati, San Francisco and New York for 10 years beginning when they were 8-10 years old. Girls with migraine entered thelarche (breast development) an average of four months earlier and menarche (start of menstrual periods) five months earlier.

Martin is the director of the Headache and Facial Pain Center at the UC Gardner Neuroscience Institute and president of the National Headache Foundation. He considers the findings the possible "Big Bang Theory" of migraine.

"Just like the universe, we're finding, is developing much earlier than we previously thought, the first onset of migraine may not be just occurring when you get these mature cycling menstrual cycles but when they're first exposed to a hormone called estrogen because that's what happens during breast bud development - the ovaries first start producing estrogen."

Martin and co-investigators will next look at other hormones that may affect migraine.

"We have hormone levels, at least for one subgroup of the girls, that we can actually look at and see if we can figure out what the precise hormonal changes are that might be associated with early puberty, which might predispose to the onset of migraine."

That information could help doctors and researchers figure out therapies to prevent migraine.

In the meantime, Martin says keeping your child's weight down may help prevent early onset of puberty. Studies have suggested a connection between childhood obesity and early puberty.

"If young adolescent girls are overweight they may have an earlier pubertal development and that may lead to a higher likelihood of developing migraine. So, that would be one thing: controlling weight during adolescence," Martin says. "We don't know this for a fact but one might theorize that that might help."

Roughly 10% of school-age children experience migraine, according to the Migraine Research Foundation. By the time they are 17, 23% of girls and 8% of boys have experienced migraine.

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Tana Weingartner earned a bachelor's degree in communication from the University of Cincinnati and a master's degree in mass communication from Miami University. Most recently, she served as news and public affairs producer with WMUB-FM. Ms. Weingartner has earned numerous awards for her reporting, including several Best Reporter awards from the Associated Press and the Ohio Society of Professional Journalists, and a regional Murrow Award. She served on the Ohio Associated Press Broadcasters Board of Directors from 2007 - 2009.