Sue Scheff: Teen Headaches and migraines

Is your teen suffering with headaches or even migraines? Adults are not the only ones that have to deal with stress, although teens have different reasons for their stress, it can cause health factors. Read more about teen headaches and some informational parenting tips.

Source: Connect with Kids

Teen Headaches

“It would fade and then it would intensify and the only thing that really made me feel better was I just went and sat in my room in the dark.”

– Monica, 16 years old

According to a new hospital study, when kids return to school, they’re more likely to suffer chronic headaches. In fact, the study reports that over a third of our kids get chronic headaches, which in a few cases may be a sign of a more serious medical problem or simply nothing to worry about.

It was one of the worst headaches 16-year-old Monica has suffered. “It would fade, and then it would intensify, and the only thing that really made me feel better was I just went and sat in my room in the dark,” she says.

What caused her headache? “Maybe stress, going from one thing to the next,” Monica speculates.

Or was it caffeine? Monica admits she relies on a daily dose of caffeine. “I usually have a Coke a day, and if I don’t have a Coke by six o’clock or so, I might start to get a little bit of a headache,” she says.

A study by the Nationwide Children’s Hospital finds that a third of kids suffer from chronic headaches. That means at least once a month if not far more often.

“There is a growing population among teenagers and adults, too, that have what we call chronic daily headaches, and these people just have headaches that just go on and on and on,” Dr. Woodward says.

The problem may be lack of sleep, poor diet and taking painkillers too often might be to blame. In some cases, the pain may be a sign of something more serious. If headaches consistently interfere with schoolwork and activities, and your child doesn’t seem to easily recover, don’t dismiss the problem.

“I think a lot of teenagers get short-shifted with headaches because there is a prevailing thought among the general population that headaches are all stress related and [kids] are all trying to get out of school and trying to get out of their work,” Dr. Woodward says. “I think you have to realize it is a real illness, and it has to be treated as such.”

Still, experts say, most headaches in kids are benign, and like Monica’s headaches, can be easily managed with over-the-counter medications or some quiet time alone.

“It usually takes a while [for the medicine to work], and then I’ll forget about it, and then I’ll kind of realize, ‘Oh, it doesn’t hurt anymore,’” Monica says.

Tips for Parents

According to the American Council for Headache Education (ACHE), people suffer from two basic types of headaches:

■Primary headaches: Include tension headaches, migraine headaches and cluster headaches
■Secondary headaches: Result from specific causes, such as infection, meningitis, tumors or localized head injury
Tension headaches are quite common, even in children and teens. It is not easy to determine just what causes them in any one person. Muscle tension plays a role, as do the day-to-day pressures of life. The University of Iowa Health Care (UIHC) says that your teen may be suffering from a tension headache if he or she experiences the following symptoms:

■Tiredness or fatigue
■Work stress
■Lack of exercise
■Major life changes
■Depression or anxiety
You can take several steps to help alleviate the pain from your teen’s tension headache. The UIHC suggests trying the following strategies:

■Teach your teen to meditate or sit quietly.
■Play soft music.
■Have your teen take a warm bath.
■Ensure that your teen gets regular exercise.
■Try massage on your teen.
■Encourage your teen to take time out for fun.
You can try over-the-counter medicines to relieve the pain. However, carefully review the label directions and precautions for other health considerations before giving your teen any medication.

If headaches are frequent or severe, or include unusual symptoms, you should consult your family doctor. Your physician may ask your teen to describe features of his or her headaches, such as location of pain, pain severity and other symptoms that accompany a headache attack. The ACHE says that to rule out the possibility of secondary headache, the physician may decide to order special tests, including a CT scan or an MRI, for your teen. Be sure to bring the following worrisome symptoms to your doctor’s attention:

■Headaches that wake your teen from sleep
■Early morning vomiting without nausea (upset stomach)
■Worsening or more frequent headaches
■Personality changes
■Complaints that “this is the worst headache I’ve ever had!”
■A headache that is different than previous headaches
■Headaches with fever or a stiff neck
■Headaches that follow an injury
It is possible that your teen may be suffering a migraine, which is episodic – generally occurring one to four times a month. The Nemours Foundation reports that about 5% of teens and young adults suffer migraines. Certain people may be particularly susceptible to the following triggers that cause migraines:

■Skipping meals
■Too much caffeine
■Certain foods (alcohol, cheese, pizza, chocolate, ice cream, fatty or fried food, lunch meats, hot dogs, yogurt, aspartame or anything with MSG, a seasoning used in Asian foods)
■Sudden changes in sleep patterns
■Changes in hormone levels
■Weather changes

If your teen suffers migraines, your doctor may prescribe medication. You can help your teen at home by teaching him or her the following pain management strategies cited by the American Academy of Family Physicians:

■Lie down in a dark, quiet room.
■Put a cold compress or rag over your forehead.
■Massage your scalp, using a lot of pressure.
■Put pressure on your temples.

■American Academy of Family Physicians
■American Council for Headache Education
■Cincinnati Children’s Headache Center
■Nemours Foundation
■University of Iowa Health Care

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