While migraines are generally regarded as an adult condition, leading research reveals that they’re incredibly common in people under 18. Approximately 10 percent of children experience migraines, with numbers increasing as individuals reach adolescence. However, diagnosis and treatment of a teenage migraine headache tend to be difficult, as sometimes not even pediatricians or adult neurologists easily recognize the condition.
One of the greatest barriers to diagnosis is non-recognition or complete dismissal of symptoms. Although some symptoms are similar to those experienced by adults, such as nausea and vomiting, intense head pain, and sensory sensitivity, teenagers often have additional complaints such as the following:
- Abdominal pain
Because these differ so drastically from the “typical” migraine, parents and even doctors may believe they’re unrelated to any headaches.
At times, headaches may be assumed by adults to be a way of getting out of school or simply getting attention. However, delays can have serious consequences for youth living with migraines.
Migraine headaches can be debilitating in many areas of life. The condition may lead students to miss more school than their peers or to struggle academically. At times, symptoms may be mistaken by teachers or school officials for behavioral issues such as excessive daydreaming or laziness. A proper diagnosis can make a major difference academically, as migraines are recognized as potentially disabling. Individuals with disabilities are legally protected from discrimination, meaning there may be recourse if you feel your child faces discrimination at school due to his or her medical disorder.
Teenager’s social life can also be impacted, leading to bullying or ostracization by peers. This may stem from an inability to participate in certain activities, like sports, due to triggers. Many times, negative social responses are a matter of ignorance that can be resolved by being open with friends and their parents about your teen’s medical condition and needs. In general, emotional support is vital to help youth dealing with migraines, as they may experience anticipatory anxiety or shame from stigmatization by others.
The first step to alleviating your teen’s pain is to obtain a diagnosis. Tracking symptoms can be helpful in determining if your teen does have a medical disorder. For example, headaches that go away after sleep may be an indication of migraines. Family history is also important – most youth who have migraines have at least one relative who does as well.
For an official diagnosis, it’s recommended you visit a specialist in pediatric migraines or an adult neurologist who has experience in that area. From there, you and your teen’s healthcare provider can devise a management plan.
Management involves both decreasing the frequency of migraines as well as easing pain and shortening the duration when they do occur. This is generally a larger task than a prescription alone can handle, although medication can be helpful in some instances. Preventative treatment requires both parent and child to pay attention to the conditions that lead to migraines in order to identify any particular triggers.
Migraines generally have certain triggers that initiate symptoms. While these vary from person to person, there are a few common ones, including the following:
- Lack of sleep
- Too much sleep
- Skipping meals
Determining triggers can be difficult for children, who may not be able to make the connection between events and their migraines. A good strategy to gather data is to establish a migraine diary. Have your child record, either on paper or an electronic device, their actions before and during the episode, what the symptoms were, and how long they lasted. Gradually, you may see a pattern emerge. Once you’ve identified the main factors that seem to lead to an attack, you can create a strategy to avoid or manage them.
Even with immense preventative care, it’s likely your child will still have migraines occasionally. When they occur, there are steps you can take to help them recover. Often sleep will relieve migraines, and if hunger or dehydration is a trigger, you should make sure your child has eaten and had enough water. Because sensory sensitivity is a major symptom, moving to a dark, quiet room may alleviate some discomfort. If stress is a trigger, working with a therapist to develop coping strategies may also help not only with treatment but preventative care.
At the National Headache Institute, we’re dedicated to helping patients reclaim their lives from headache pain, however, we do not see any patient under the age of 16. Our team of caring physicians takes a personalized approach to understand the cause of your headaches to address the root problem. Once our medical professionals have identified your individual needs, we can form a treatment plan in coordination with your other healthcare providers. No one should have to endure the pain and disruption that headaches bring, especially teenagers. To learn more about the National Headache Institute or to schedule an appointment, call us at (713) 467-4082 or contact us online. We have offices conveniently located in Houston, Miami, and New Jersey.