"Forgotten" children's headache: three quarters have complaints

Almost 70 percent of children have headaches according to current study data, including those from Austria. School days, for example, are canceled if there are frequent attacks of migraines or tension headaches. There is also a high risk of additional psychiatric illnesses in adulthood, the German Pain Society has now determined.

“According to studies, more than two thirds of pupils regularly have headaches. As a result, around 20 percent of children and adolescents repeatedly miss lessons. Often times, pressure to perform, emotional stress, too much screen time and too little exercise are the cause – the months-long lockdown has significantly increased all these factors. Nevertheless, headaches in children are often not taken seriously and they are not presented to a doctor – although simple therapeutic measures could often relieve the pain, “wrote the German Pain Society on the occasion of its upcoming annual congress (19 . until October 23).

“Parents shouldn’t play down headaches. Headaches can seriously affect the everyday life and future of young people,” said Gudrun Goßrau, head of the headache outpatient department at the Interdisciplinary University Pain Center at the Dresden University Hospital and President of the German Pain Congress 2021.

Study from Austria

One of the most recent epidemiological studies on the frequency of headaches in children and adolescents comes from Austria.

“If you start with Europe, a recently published study from Austria with a sample of 3,386 schoolchildren between the ages of ten and 18 showed a headache frequency of 75.7 percent within one year (girls: 82.1 percent; boys 67, 7 percent). This study also showed (…) a frequency of migraines of 24.2 percent, of 21.6 percent for tension headaches and chronic headaches at three percent (more than 15 days per month) “, the authors cited a review article in “Current Pain and Headache Reports) at the end of August 2020 a work by Julia Philipp and co-authors from child and adolescent psychiatry at the University Clinic Vienna (AKH / MedUni) in the Journal of Headache Pain from November 2019.

The older, the more often

Basically, this frequency applies roughly across Europe. Around 80 percent of children and adolescents have headaches again and again. The older they are, the more often.

“In a cross-sectional study in Dresden, with over 2,700 students surveyed, more than two thirds of all respondents stated that they regularly suffer from headaches. More than a fifth of all children and adolescents with more than two headache days a month were therefore regularly absent from the School “, stated the German Pain Society.

Therapy only for very few

A clear problem lies both in the diagnosis and in the subsequent treatment of these symptoms or diseases. “Only very few people receive a medical diagnosis and therapy for the headache,” said Großau.

“Migraines and tension headaches are the most common independent pain diagnoses in children and adolescents.” It is alarming that headaches are instead often fought on their own with over-the-counter drugs (OTC preparations; note). “Children should only take painkillers if they have been prescribed by a doctor in a suitable dose,” the expert continues.

Lucia Gerstl from the Hauner Children’s Hospital of the Ludwig Maximilians University and her co-authors in the journal of the International Headache Society (Cephalgia) recently presented the consequences of undiagnosed headache conditions in children and adolescents in a comparative study. They compared the insurance data of 56,597 adolescents aged 15 and over with and without migraines over a period of ten years.

Warning sign

The results are noteworthy and should lead to significantly more awareness-raising and efforts to recognize suspicious symptoms or to act for diagnosis and therapy:

– 88 percent of adolescent migraineurs developed an additional psychiatric disorder or other pain problem within the following decade.

– Adolescents with migraines had a 30 percent higher risk of additional chronic complaints.

– The frequency of stress-related and psychosomatic disorders was increased by 80 percent.

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