Many children and young people struggle with headaches

Data from a new Danish study shows that many children aged 7 – 14 years suffer from headaches. Other studies show that the proportion of children suffering from headaches increases from 5% at 3 years of age to more than 50% in puberty. 

There are many reasons to take children's headaches seriously. Frequent headaches can have a major negative impact on the children's daily life, e.g., quality of life, school attendance, social life, mental health, and participation in physical activities; and children with headaches can suffer from more comorbid conditions, such as stomach pain, neck and back pain, obesity, sleep problems and allergies.

This study describes the characteristics of recurrent or chronic headaches in children aged 7 – 14 years, and researchers explore whether data could be used to develop a more comprehensive and complete way of categorizing headaches than the usual one.

253 children with chronic or recurrent headaches and their parents participated in the study. 2/3 of the children had had headaches for more than a year, and more than 50% had headaches several times a week. More than 1/3 of the children used over-the-counter medicine one or more times a week. Only slightly more than half were examined by a doctor and 4 out of 5 received no treatment for their headaches before joining the study, indicating great variation in the management of children’s headaches.

The children were not given a specific diagnosis at baseline, but using the available data, the researchers were able to categorize the children into two types with reasonable certainty:

22% of the children were categorised with migraine and 23% with tension-type headaches but half of the children could not be categorised. This group of non-specific headaches probably covers several different headache types e.g., mixed headache, cervicogenic headache or headache due to overuse of medication. The many cases of non-specific headaches emphasized the need to look at the way headaches are categorized.

The researchers propose an index of headache that includes all symptoms that can be related to headache. The index indicates that headache can perhaps be seen as a more fluent spectrum, with a smoother transition between the types to be able to consider e.g., mixed headaches and overlapping symptoms. If a given cut point can be found for when a certain type of treatment will be beneficial, it could potentially make the treatment of children's recurrent or chronic headaches more effective.

It is also important to pay attention to children with less severe types of headaches, partly to get the full picture and partly to prevent their headache from becoming more serious headaches.

Kristina Boe Dissing, Werner Vach, Susanne Lynge, Henrik Wulff Christensen & Lise Hestbaek. Description of recurrent headaches in 7–14-year-old children: Baseline data from a randomized clinical trial on effectiveness of chiropractic spinal manipulation in children with recurrent headaches. Chiropractic & Manual Therapies 2023  

Foto: Colourbox