Migraines are a type of headache that can be severe and debilitating. They are characterized by a throbbing or pulsing pain that is often accompanied by other symptoms such as sensitivity to light, noise, or smells. While migraines are commonly associated with adults, they can also affect teenagers. In this blog post, we will discuss migraines in teens, including their causes, symptoms, and treatment options.
Causes of Migraines in Teens:
The exact cause of migraines is not yet known, but there are several factors that are believed to trigger them. In teens, the following factors commonly contribute to the onset of migraines:
- Hormonal Changes: Hormonal changes during puberty can trigger migraines in some teens. Girls are more likely to experience migraines around the time of menstruation.
- Genetics: Migraines can run in families, and some teens may be more susceptible to them due to their genetic makeup.
- Lifestyle factors: Certain lifestyle factors, such as lack of sleep, irregular meals, or skipping meals, dehydration, caffeine and various food additives can trigger migraines in some teens.
- Stress: Emotional stress or physical exertion can trigger migraines in some teens.
- Excess inflammation: As with adults, excess inflammation caused by food sensitivities, GI dysbiosis, heavy metal toxicity, etc can be at the root of frequent migraines.
- Eye changes: Needing to update an eye-glass prescription can lead to frequent headaches as can a visual-processing disorder called Irlen Syndrome (Learn from Dr Irlen herself in our Migraine Summit). Migraineurs also often find specific migraine glasses to be helpful.
Symptoms of Migraines in Teens:
Migraines can cause a variety of symptoms, including:
- Headache: A throbbing or pulsing pain in the head is the most common symptom of a migraine. The pain can be severe and can last for several hours to several days.
- Sensitivity to light, noise, or smells: Teens with migraines may be sensitive to light, noise, or smells, which can worsen the headache.
- Nausea and vomiting: Some teens with migraines may experience nausea and vomiting.
- Blurred vision: Some teens may experience blurred vision or visual disturbances, such as seeing flashing lights or zigzag lines.
- Dizziness: Some teens with migraines may feel dizzy or lightheaded.
- Fatigue: Migraines can cause fatigue or lethargy, which can make it difficult for teens to carry out their normal activities.
Treatment of Migraines in Teens:
The treatment of migraines in teens typically involves a combination of medications and lifestyle changes. While migraines in teens are common and usually not life-threatening, it is a good idea to visit a neurologist when they first begin, to rule out anything serious and get their recommendations for treatment.
Here are some common treatment options:
- Over-the-counter pain relievers: Over-the-counter pain relievers such as ibuprofen can be effective in treating migraines in teens. Be careful not to over-use these however, as they can have serious side effects. For example, frequent use of ibuprofen is known to damage the GI system.
- Prescription medications: A doctor may prescribe medications specifically for migraines. These medications include triptans, ergotamines, or anti-nausea medications.
- Lifestyle changes: Certain lifestyle changes can help prevent migraines in teens. These include getting enough sleep and sticking to a consistent sleep schedule, eating regular meals, drinking plenty of water, and avoiding triggers such as caffeine, and stress.
- Relaxation techniques: Relaxation techniques such as meditation, deep breathing, or yoga can help reduce stress and prevent migraines.
- Therapy: In some cases, therapy may be recommended to help teens manage stress and cope with their migraines.
Preventing Migraines in Teens:
Preventing migraines in teens can be challenging, but there are several things parents can do to help. Here are some tips:
- Encourage healthy habits: Encourage your teen to eat regular balanced meals, drink plenty of water, and get enough sleep.
- Identify triggers: Help your teen identify triggers such as caffeine, certain foods or stress, and encourage them to avoid or manage these triggers.
- Keep a headache diary: Encourage your teen to keep a headache diary, which can help identify triggers and patterns in their migraines. Sometimes the patterns can be tricky to follow, but it’s possible that say exams or group presentations, or days when they skipped lunch can stand out as obvious triggers to manage in the future.
- Encourage relaxation: Encourage your teen to take time to relax and not over-commit to extracurriculars.
- Help manage expectations: For some, external pressure to “succeed” or fit into societal expectations as a young adult compounds with self-inflicted pressure. Parents can help reassure teens that there are many paths to becoming a “successful” adult.
- Limit screen time: There are both physiological and psychological reasons that too much screen time can affect both adults and young people. Help your teens set healthy boundaries and lead by example.
If these foundational lifestyle changes aren’t helping, seek out a functional or naturopathic doctor to help address underlying issues such as food sensitivities, heavy metal toxicity or parasites.
Remember medication is useful for symptom relief but doesn’t address the root cause of migraines. Migraines are a distress signal from your body that something needs to change. Solving the migraine puzzle as a teenager is an opportunity to set yourself on a healthier track for the rest of your life.