Migraine can affect people of any age. When a teenager experiences migraine, it can significantly affect their school, work, and social life.
Migraine is an often debilitating neurological condition that causes moderate to severe localized headaches. Additional symptoms, such as visual or auditory disturbances, nausea, vomiting, or fatigue, can accompany these headaches.
This article outlines the different types of migraine that can affect teens, along with their causes and treatments. It also provides tips on preventing future migraine attacks and offers advice on when teens should see a doctor.
A migraine is a moderate to severe headache that typically occurs on one side of the head.
Migraine headaches affect as many as 28% of teens between 15–19 years.
Several types of migraine can affect teenagers:
- Migraine with aura: An aura is a type of sensory disturbance that happens shortly before a migraine attack. A
2014 studyreports that about 25% of teens and children experience migraine with aura. Such symptoms may include:
- visual disturbances, such as seeing flashes, bright dots, or geometric shapes
- sensitivity to light or sound
- tingling sensations on one side of the body
- Migraine with brainstem aura: This type of migraine involves aura symptoms that originate from the base of the brain. Around 1 in 10 people who have migraine pain experience migraine with brainstem aura. Symptoms may include:
- Migraine without aura: A common type of migraine headache that does not include neurological symptoms before the headache develops.
- Abdominal migraine: An abdominal migraine causes intense stomach pain, often with nausea and vomiting. These symptoms typically last anywhere from 2–72 hours and affect about 4% of children.
- Chronic migraine: According to the Migraine Research Foundation (MRF), a person has chronic migraine if they experience symptoms for at least 4 hours a day for 15 days per month for at least 3 months. Additional symptoms may include:
Experts do not know what causes migraine. However, there does appear to be a genetic component. According to the MRF, if a child has one parent who experiences migraine, that child has a 50% chance of developing the condition in their lifetime. If both the child’s parents experience migraine, these odds increase to around 75%.
In adults, migraine is more common among females than males. Females are more likely to develop migraine in their teens, while males are more likely to develop migraine during their childhood.
A note about sex and gender
Sex and gender exist on spectrums. This article will use the terms, “male,” “female,” or both to refer to sex assigned at birth. Click here to learn more.
Researchers believe that environmental triggers also play a role in determining who will develop migraine. Some common triggers include:
- stress, anxiety, and depression
- poor sleep habits or changes to sleep habits
- certain foods and beverages
Other possible migraine triggers include:
- changes to the menstrual cycle
Migraine treatments will vary according to:
- the type of migraine the person is experiencing
- the symptoms the person is experiencing
- how the person responds to various treatments
A doctor will typically recommend both medication and lifestyle changes to help treat migraine in teens.
Acute migraine pain may respond to over-the-counter (OTC) pain relievers, such as acetaminophen or nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs). If these are not effective, a doctor may prescribe prescription-strength treatments.
A doctor may prescribe antiemetic drugs to help alleviate symptoms of nausea and vomiting. Examples include Prochlorperazine and Domperidone.
According to the National Institute of Health and Care Excellence (NIHCE), Domperidone may not be suitable for children under 12 years of age or weigh less than 35 kilograms.
Doctors will often recommend that people make certain changes to their daily routine to help prevent future migraine attacks. Changes include:
- avoiding processed foods, including those high in fat and sugar
- improving sleep quality and consistency
- keeping a headache diary to help people identify possible migraine triggers
Doctors will often recommend two methods for preventing future migraine attacks: preventive medication and lifestyle changes.
If migraine is debilitating or disruptive, a doctor may prescribe prophylactic medications to reduce the frequency and severity of the symptoms. However, according to NIHCE, there is limited evidence that these medications are effective in children.
A doctor may also recommend that a person make certain changes to try to prevent future migraine attacks. Some common recommendations include:
- learning to manage stress
- drinking 8–12 glasses of non-carbonated liquid each day
- exercising for at least 1 hour, three times a week
- eating 3 meals a day that are low in sugar and fats and contain a large amount of protein and vegetables
- getting at least 8 hours of sleep each night and following a regular sleep schedule
To diagnose migraine in a teen, a doctor will:
- conduct a medical examination
- ask about symptoms and medical history
- ask the teen, parent, or caregiver if there is any family history of migraine
A doctor may also take steps to rule out other conditions that may be causing the headaches and any related symptoms. Depending on the diagnosis, these tests may include:
If a teen is experiencing severe or frequent headaches, they or their caregiver should contact a doctor.
Any teenager with a parent who experiences migraine should talk with their doctor as soon as they start experiencing similar symptoms.
If medications or lifestyle changes are not alleviating migraine attacks or symptoms, talk with a doctor about other possible treatments.
Migraine that occurs in teenagers can have a significant effect on their school, work, and social life.
Experts still do not know the cause of migraine, though it seems that the condition has a genetic component. A teen who has a parent who experiences migraine is at increased risk of developing the condition.
For teens, migraine treatment may involve medications to help ease head pain and antiemetics to alleviate nausea and vomiting. It is not clear whether preventive medications reduce migraine frequency and severity in children and teens.
Anyone who is concerned about severe or frequent headaches should contact their doctor for a diagnosis and appropriate treatment.