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Treatment of Adolescent Headache

Are medications used to treat headaches in adults similar to those used to treat adolescent headache?

For the most part, children and adolescence with headache are treated in a way similar to that in adults with headache, however, there are differences.  Although many of the medications are the same and can be used safely and effectively in children, some are considered too strong or less well studied and would be best avoided in childhood if at all possible.

Triptans can be used as can ergot derivatives such as DHE.  Many other drugs used in adulthood can also be used in adolescence.  Aspirin and products containing aspirin should not be used in children under the age of 15 because of the potential for Reye's syndrome.  Both preventive and rescue medications can be used effectively in children when necessary.  Nonmedication therapies or techniques can be very helpful in children and adolescence with headaches.  

What non-medication therapies or techniques have been helpful in treating adolescent headache sufferers?

Many children respond well to non-medication treatment approaches. Treatment generally includes biofeedback and relaxation therapy, life-style adjustments including a migraine diet, maintaining a regular routine and schedule, exercising, and avoiding known headache triggers. A gluten-free diet may helpful to some children.

The following suggestions have been found to be helpful:

  • Regular time for waking and going to bed. Anyone who has had teenagers will know how difficult this can be. Yet is seems clear that for adults as well as kids a regular waking and sleeping schedule is important.
  • Regular meals. Adolescents tend to skip meals or have irregular eating patterns. This can provoke headache. Maintaining "sameness" is important.
  • Regular exercise. This does not necessarily mean competitive sports, which may be excellent exercise, but another source of stress. Adolescents should exercise for fun and fitness which can help reduce stress and associated headaches.
  • Cognitive behavioral techniques can help the adolescent use his or her intellectual ability to see the headache as a solvable problem, not a never-ending misery. These techniques can give a person a sense of control over what can be an unpredictable and discouraging illness. It may help the person who tends to overreact emotionally from becoming overwhelmed by negative feelings.
  • Relaxation techniques also can impart a sense of control by teaching the adolescent to be aware of muscle tension. Through these methods the adolescent can learn how to relax tight muscles. Biofeedback can be especially helpful in this regard.

Are headache researchers beginning to study treatments for adolescent headache sufferers?

The very good news is that there are increasing studies and research efforts to identify better treatments for adolescents with headache.  There is evidence that early and effective treatment for children with headaches may help forestall a more progressive and difficult pattern later in life.  This is true for all chronic pain disorders.