Monday, May 9, 2011

Headaches in teens increase with stress

I just read an interesting study about teenagers with headaches. About one to two per cent of adolescents have chronic daily headaches, defined as greater than 15 headache days per month for more than three months.

Once school begins, teen stress levels increase with each week of school, and with that come more complaints of chronic headaches. It's not unusual for me to see several teens a week who complain that they have headaches every day.

Despite these persistent headaches, the majority of adolescents continue to participate in school activities, sleep well once they fall asleep, and spend their weekends doing whatever it is all teens do.

I see very few teenagers who look like they're in "severe" pain, although they may insist, "My head is killing me" while chattering away about where it hurts, how often it hurts, etc.

In these cases, it's important to obtain a good history to rule out any underlying pathology, as well as to inquire about family history of migraines.

In the study I reviewed, the authors followed adolescents ages 12-14 who met criteria for chronic daily headaches.

They followed the group after both one and two years, then again after eight years. The results showed that after one year, 40 per cent of the adolescents still complained of chronic headaches. After two years, only 25 per cent reported headaches.

After eight years, only 12 per cent of those studied reported chronic headaches. Most participants reported substantial or some improvement in headache intensity and frequency during the eightyear follow-up.

The most significant predictor for ongoing problems with headaches was the onset of chronic headaches before the age of 13. For the most part, 75 per cent of adolescents with chronic daily headaches improved over the eight-year period.

This study seemed to confirm that teens and headaches go together.

It's important to spend time with adolescents to explore ways to alleviate stress as a trigger for chronic daily headaches. Basic changes in lifestyle, such as healthy eating, regular exercise, and a good night's sleep, will often help reduce headaches.

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