Question

Is it a frequent factor that bilingual children suffer more migrane attacks?

Answer

Dear Mr. Samuel,

I´ll begin with the conclusion:

There is no scientific evidence, at this point, that demonstrates a relationship between migraines and the use of more than one language.

As a doctor (psychiatrist, but doctor), when I read your question, I reviewed my knowledge of headaches. We know that there are genetic causes (there is a high probability of heredity), environmental causes (certain types of nutrients or hormonal factors such as menstruation, etc…), and triggers from certain mental activities (reading, writing, listening….)

Also, my knowledge of the bilingual brain lead me to believe that none of the changes that occur through the use of more than one language could affect the appearance of migraines. This is because bilingualism increases the density of connections and the distribution of linguistic activity in the brain (the areas used to communicate) but we haven´t detected changes in its structure nor in relation to its vascular or electrical functioning.

Next, I reflected upon on our experience:
After five years of attending to more than 1,000 bilingual families a year, we never proposed this question, nor has any family ever asked us about it. Therefore, according to our experience, we haven´t noticed a higher frequency or intensity of migraines in our bilingual patients (regardless of their age) versus monolingual patients.

Nevertheless, we weren´t satisfied by our experience, alone.

Our team searched through PubMed, the most important database of bio-sanitary publications in the world, without finding any results relating to migraines and bilingualism.

Finally, we contacted one of the most renowned bilingual experts in the world: Francois Grosjean. He confirmed that there is no higher prevalence nor frequency in migraines of bilingual people versus monolingual people.

In conclusion, it is more probable that there does not exist a relation between migraines and bilingualism. If it does, it has not been demonstrated, nor studied at this moment in time.

I hope to have been able to help you relieve this, “headache” and encourage you to continue educating your child/children bilingually without worrying about causing or worsening their migraines.

Warm regards and thank you for trusting us in resolving your doubt,

Dra Orlanda Varela
Child and Adults Psychiatrist
Partner and Cofounder at SINEWS Multilingual Therapy Institute

Division of Medicine
Dra. Orlanda Varela González
Director of SINEWS MTI
Founding Partner
Psychiatrist
Children, adolescents and adults
Languages: English and Spanish
See Resumé