Headache in adolescents

One in two girls and a quarter of boys aged 12 to 15 in a representative study in Western Pomerania reported having repeated headaches. The quality of life of those affected is impaired. The experts are worried that only one out of every four adolescents with recurring headaches consult a doctor, but 60 percent treat their pain with medication or receive medication from their parents. These are important findings of the first large epidemiological headache study of the German Migraine and Headache Society (DMKG).

Girls affected more often

If teenagers regularly complain about headaches, the alarm bells should ring at the parents. Especially girls are affected. Almost every second between the ages of 12 and 15 suffers from recurring headaches. This makes girls twice as likely to suffer from headaches as their male counterparts.

At the moment we can not say exactly why, "says Konstanze Fendrich from the University of Greifswald. "Maybe girls are more likely to experience pain, or they may be more susceptible to headache-inducing factors like stress, and the hormonal changes associated with the onset of puberty may play a role."

Survey at 20 schools

The researchers from the University of Greifswald surveyed a total of 3, 324 seventeenth-to-ninth-year pupils at 20 schools in Western Pomerania in the period from 2003 to 2004 for headaches and the associated restrictions. The result: around 70 percent of adolescents remembered having had a headache in the last three months. Fifty percent of the girls and 25 percent of the boys reported having suffered from repeated headaches during this period.

Since the experts assume that the situation of the students in Vorpommern does not differ significantly from that in other federal states, this means for the Federal Republic 1.75 million young people have headache experience and at 950, 000 the pain occurs again and again.

While the proportion of recurrent headaches in girls varies between grades - 43 per cent for 12-year-olds and 54 per cent for 15-year-olds - there are no such differences among boys. The researchers are suffering from the stringent criteria of the international headache classification of the International Headache Society

  • 2.6 percent of students with migraine
  • 4.5 percent have tension headache.

If the criteria are less stringent, such as the number and duration of the attacks, the picture changes: 12.6 percent of adolescents are likely to suffer from migraine and 15.7 percent from tension-type headache.

The quality of life is impaired

Headaches make the adolescents, especially if they suffer from repeated headaches, clearly noticeable in all areas. Body, psyche and self-esteem are significantly impaired in those adolescents who have a headache. Also in the family and at school the pain causes problems.

Take pain seriously

"What makes us think, " says Fendrich, "is the uncontrolled use of medication." Only about one in four adolescents consult a doctor for repeated headaches, and only 3 percent seek out a neurologist or headache expert. More than half of the boys and more than 60 percent of the girls take medication. When asked which medicines they take, the adolescents named the over-the-counter drugs paracetamol, acetylsalicylic acid and ibuprofen. But also the prescription metamizole is used.

Fendrich: "On the other hand, it would be important to develop strategies in good time to prevent chronic pain." Surveys of pain patients show that 60 to 70 percent of chronic headache patients already suffered from headaches in childhood or adolescence, but did not take them seriously.

Lifestyle rises to the head

Music, Gameboy, Alcohol. To develop timely strategies for the headache, the researchers asked the young people for other life circumstances that could be related to the emergence of headaches.
The conclusion: Headaches are most pronounced in adolescents who repeatedly suffer from back pain.

But the intended graduation also plays a role: So have secondary school students a bit more headache than high school students and high school students, the risk of headache is the highest. But media consumption also plays a role.

As risk factors proved the favorites of the youthful lifestyle:

  • More than one hour of music consumption per day
  • More than an hour of Game Boy and computer game per day
  • more than two glasses of high alcohol consumption per week

"We can now pinpoint these risks for the first time, and adolescents for whom they performed were significantly more likely to have headaches, " explains Fendrich. On the other hand, the time spent sitting in front of the TV and computer as well as sports activities in the leisure time seem to have no influence on the headache risk.

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