Background: Adverse childhood experiences (ACEs) are commonly observed in the general population and often have lasting neurological and physiological effects. Previous studies have found links between exposure to ACEs, headaches, and functional difficulties in adults. However, little is known about the mechanisms through which exposure to ACEs is associated with headaches among children. Objective: To examine the association between exposure to ACEs and headaches in children, and whether functional difficulties mediate this association. Methods: Data for this cross-sectional secondary analysis study came from the 2017–2018 National Survey of Children's Health. The sample analyzed in this study was 40,953 children who were between ages 3 and 17 years. We adjusted for the complexity of the sampling design and used structural equation modeling to examine the mediating effect of functional difficulties in the association between exposure to ACEs and headaches. Results: Based on parent reports, we found that 4.1% (1697/40,953) of the children reported frequent or severe headaches, and 9.5% (3906/40,953) were exposed to three or more ACEs. About one in four children (23.4%; 9601/40,953) had at least one functional difficulty. The results show that exposure to ACEs was directly positively associated with functional difficulties (β = 0.16, p < 0.001, 95% CI = 0.15–0.17), and functional difficulties were in turn positively associated with headaches (β = 0.17, p < 0.001, 95% CI = 0.12–0.22). The Sobel test of indirect effect showed that functional difficulties partially mediated the association between exposure to ACEs and headaches (β = 0.027, p < 0.001, 95% CI = 0.022–0.029). Also, older children and children with brain injury were more likely to report experiencing headaches. Conclusions: The findings from this study suggest an association between exposure to ACEs and headaches among children, and functional difficulties partially mediate this association.
- adverse childhood experiences
- functional difficulties
- National Survey of Children's Health
ASJC Scopus subject areas
- Clinical Neurology