Up to 10% of 5- to 15-year-olds and more than a quarter of 15- to 19-year-olds experience the excruciating pain of migraine headaches. In addition to the pain, nausea, and fatigue that migraines cause, frequent severe headaches also may be associated with emotional and behavioral problems in children, say researchers at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) in Atlanta.
In a 2003 survey of 9,264 children between 4 and 17 years of age, researchers asked parents whether their children experienced frequent severe headaches or migraines during the last year. The parents also noted whether their children had:
- emotional problems, such as worrying, nervousness, or fear
- conduct problems, such as losing control of temper, fighting or bullying, or stealing
- hyperactivity or inattention, such as restlessness, inability to concentrate, or fidgeting
- peer problems, such as being bullied
Overall, parents reported that nearly 7% of the children experienced frequent severe headaches in the past year. Compared with kids who were pain-free, those with frequent severe headaches were significantly more likely to have emotional, conduct, inattention and hyperactivity, and peer problems.
Results from the survey also showed that they were significantly more likely to be upset or distressed by their problems. The parents of kids with headaches also were significantly more likely to note that these difficulties interfered with home life, friendships, classroom learning, and leisure-time activities. The survey results also indicated that kids with frequent severe headaches were much more likely to visit the doctor or a mental health professional for an emotional or behavioral problem.
What This Means to You. According to this study, children who experience migraines and frequent headaches may be more likely to have problems with peer and family relationships as well as emotional and behavioral difficulties. Prior research has shown that headaches may be even more common among teens.
If your child experiences symptoms of migraine — like severe and throbbing head pain, nausea, vomiting, and sensitivity to light and smell — talk to your doctor. In addition to medication to treat the migraines, the doctor may also recommend that your child meet with a mental health professional. Some studies have shown that behavioral therapy, relaxation training, and other therapies may help treat recurring headaches in kids and teens.
Source: Tara W. Strine, MPH; Catherine A. Okoro, MS; Lisa C. McGuire, PhD; Lina S. Balluz, ScD; Pediatrics, May 2006.
Reviewed by: Steven Dowshen, MD
Date reviewed: May 2006