Background

Personality traits (especially neuroticism) and childhood maltreatment have been independently related to many negative health outcomes later in life, including migraine. Studies have also shown the association between childhood maltreatment and maladaptive personality traits. The mediating role of personality traits on the relationship between childhood maltreatment and depression, psychological distress, and alcohol dependence has been extensively studied. However, this type of mediation has not been studied in the case of the development of migraine. This study investigated (1) the main effects of childhood abuse on personality traits, and of personality traits on migraine, and (2) the mediating role of neuroticism, on the relationship between childhood abuse and migraine in young adults.

Method

We analyzed retrospective, cross-sectional data from 13,493 adults aged 24-32 years in Wave 4 of the National Longitudinal Survey of Adolescent Health (“Add Health”) data set. Participants were queried regarding maltreatment (emotional, physical, and sexual) during childhood, current Big Five personality traits (using mini International Personality Item Pool), current depression (using Center for Epidemiologic Studies-Depression Scale), perceived stress (Using Cohen’s Perceived Stress Scale), and diagnosis of migraine by a health care provider. Linear and logistic regressions were used to assess the main effects of childhood maltreatment on the five personality traits (openness to experience, conscientiousness, extraversion, agreeableness, and neuroticism) and the main effect of the personality traits on self-reported provider diagnosis of migraine. A structural equation model (SEM) was used to examine the mediating role of neuroticism on the relationship between childhood maltreatment and migraine.

Results

Linear regression models showed that childhood abuse independently predicted increased neuroticism (β = 0.338, SE=±0.05, P < .001), and increased openness to experiences (β = 0.341, SE = ±0.06, P < .001) after adjusting for socio-demographic characteristics, current depression, and perceived stress. Logistic regression to examine the main effect of personality traits on migraine revealed that only neuroticism had a significant effect (OR = 1.07, 95%CI = 1.04-1.10) after controlling for childhood abuse, socio-demographic characteristics, current depression, and perceived stress. Our regression analyses showed that neuroticism, but not openness to experience, was a potential mediator for the relationship between childhood abuse and migraine. SEM confirmed significant mediation of the relationship between childhood abuse and migraine through neurotic personality traits (goodness of fit indices: CFI = 0.992, TLI = 0.979, RMSEA = 0.025), unadjusted for socio-demographic variables, depression, and stress. In addition to the indirect effect (β = 0.039, P < .01) of childhood abuse on migraine through neuroticism, there was also a significant direct effect (β = 0.143, P < .01) of childhood abuse on migraine. After adjusting for socio-demographic variables, other personality types, depression, and stress, both the direct effect (β = 0.127; P < .01) of childhood abuse on migraine and the indirect effect (β = 0.09; P < .01) of childhood abuse on migraine through neuroticism were attenuated, but remained significant.

Conclusion

Childhood abuse is associated with personality and migraine. An estimated 21% of the total effect of childhood abuse on migraine could be explained by mediation through neuroticism in the unadjusted model. In the fully adjusted model, an estimated 8.7% of the total effect could be explained by mediation, although, self-reported data limit the ability to draw firm conclusions.

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