Migraines and Teenagers

November 12, 2012

Migraines and Teenagers

A new study recently published in the medical journal Neurology has reported that chronic headaches or migraines tend to occur in teenagers if they are overweight, smoke and live a sedentary lifestyle. The study is one of the first to examine this relationship in teenagers and it identified that teenagers with these three negative lifestyle factors had more than a threefold chance of suffering frequent, severe headaches than teenagers who were normal weight, and active and did not smoke.

Headaches are not unusual in teenagers. A nationwide study showed 5% of teenage boys and almost 8% of teenage girls reported suffering frequent headaches. A study carried out in Poland showed 28% of older teenagers reported suffering a migraine headache. According to earlier research the frequency and severity of headaches are affected by the lifestyle of the teenagers which include smoking and obesity.

Study researcher John-Anker Zwart, MD, PhD, of the University of Oslo says “the study is the first to examine the individual impact of specific negative lifestyle factors like obesity and smoking. We were surprised by how many teenagers with headaches smoked or were overweight or physically inactive. We were also surprised that the impact of these negative lifestyle factors seemed to add up”.

Six thousand Norwegian students aged between 13 and 18 participated in this study. They were questioned about their headache history. The results showed that 36% of the girls suffered from recurrent headaches within the last 12 months and about one fifth of the boys (21%) said they suffered too.

The students were asked did they smoke and how much they exercised. Approximately one in five (19%) of the teenagers said they smoked. 16% of the students were overweight and 31% stated they exercised less than twice a week. Just over half of the students (55%) who were overweight, sedentary and smoked had experienced frequent headaches. This was in comparison to one in four teenagers with no negative lifestyle factors.

The research has not defined the cause and effect so it is still not clear if the reason fro the frequent headaches is due to the teenagers smoking, being overweight and lacking in exercise or they are caused by the vulnerability of the teenagers.

Andrew D Hershey, MD, PhD, Director of the headache center at Cincinnati Children’s Hospital Medical Centre says “Most children and teens with migraines and other severe, chronic headaches are genetically predisposed to have them. Children with migraines tend to have a parent who has had them. Environmental influences come into play by causing headaches to be expressed more frequently”. According to research carried out by Hershey it was found that overweight children who had lost weight suffered less from headaches.

He advises his patients to get plenty of sleep, do regular exercise no less than 4 times a week, and make sure that they drink enough caffeine free liquids and eat healthily and maintain a balanced diet.

He points out that the new school terms are high risk times for getting headaches because common triggers are lack of sleep and missed meals. These factors are common to the start of most school years.

Hershey says that, “Most teens have to get up at 6:00 or 6:30 to get to school and many skip breakfast to get a little more sleep. That is two strikes against them before the day even gets started. Every year around the end of September and early October we see a big increase in headache cases”. This goes against the body clock that children reaching puberty develop. Their bodily rhythm is saying stay up later but they must still get up early to go to school.


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