Many Kids Outgrow Chronic Headaches
Those with migraines more likely to struggle in adulthood, study finds
WEDNESDAY, July 15, 2009 (HealthDay News) -- For most children who suffer from chronic daily headaches in their early teens, a new study has good news -- about 88 percent will outgrow them before their early 20s.
For the remaining 12 percent, however, those headaches may persist into adulthood. And, the study, published in the July 15 online issue of Neurology, found that teens who experienced migraines were more likely to continue having headaches as they got older.
"This long-term community-based study found that, after eight years of follow-up, chronic daily headache in adolescents is not a protracted disorder. Even though many patients still had headache, most subjects did not have chronic daily headaches at the latest follow-up," said study author Dr. Shuu-Jiun Wang, section chief of the neurological institute at Taipei Veterans General Hospital in Taiwan.
As many as 4 percent of American adults and 1 percent to 2 percent of middle-school children experience chronic daily headaches, according to an editorial in the same issue of the journal. To be classified as a chronic daily headache sufferer, the person must have headaches more than 15 days each month for more than three months, according to background information in the study. Generally, these headaches last for more than four hours a day, and cause considerable disability.
The new research included 122 Taiwanese teens between the ages of 12 and 14 at the start of the study. All reported chronic daily headaches. Nearly two-thirds experienced a tension-type headache, while the other third had chronic migraines.
At the eight-year follow-up point, 103 of the volunteers completed the study. Twenty-six were male, and the average age at the end of the study was 21.6 years old.
Just 12 percent were still having chronic daily headaches after eight years. Eighty-three percent of those still having headaches were migraine sufferers, according to the study.
Other factors associated with continuing headache included medication overuse (which can cause "rebound headaches"), an onset of headaches before the age of 13, and a duration of daily headaches that lasted longer than two years, the study said.
"The exact reason [the headaches stopped for most] is unknown based on this observational study. We believe that this is the nature of chronic daily headache in adolescents as they grow into young adults," Wang said.
Dr. Amy Goldstein, a pediatric neurologist at Children's Hospital of Pittsburgh, said the new study "shows that if your child is having chronic daily headaches, even without major intervention, the majority will get better. It may be a difficult year to get through, and for a lot of my patients, they feel like the headache pain is never going to go away, but the message here is that it can get better over time, so continue working with your physician."
If you or your child are experiencing daily headaches, Goldstein said that one of the most helpful things you can do is to keep a headache diary so you and your doctor can pinpoint potential headache triggers that you may need to avoid.
Also, she said, you need to be careful about over-the-counter pain medication use, because while they can initially be helpful, they can cause rebound headaches when used long term. If medications -- prescription or over-the-counter -- don't help, some alternative medicine therapies may be useful, such as massage, acupuncture or biofeedback.
In some cases, people with chronic headaches can benefit from counseling if the headaches stem from stress or anxiety, Goldstein said.
Learn more about headaches in children from the Nemours Foundation.