School and computer stress trigger childhood headaches

Stress factors are among the most important triggers of headaches and migraines in children, Italian researchers reported at the Meeting of the European Neurological Society in Prague. School stress and nightly computer sessions ranked highest among the causes of such pain.

Stress factors were the trigger for headaches or migraine attacks in two-thirds of the children examined at an outpatient clinic, Italian researchers reported at the 22nd Meeting of the European Neurological Society (ENS) in Prague. "In 72% of the cases we studied, stress could be identified as a major factor behind their headaches," said Dr Dacia Dalla Libera (San Raffaele Institute, Milan). "School stress and a burdensome lack of sleep due to night time computer or television activities head the list of frequent stress factors. In the future, we will need to incorporate these insights much more into the individual counselling and therapy of childhood headache patients."

More and more children and adolescents suffer from headaches. In studies during the mid 1970s, only 14% of children and young people admitted to having suffered from a headache in the previous six months. Now, every other child is familiar with the painful condition. In adolescents between eleven and 18 years of age, migraine affects 7% of boys and 12% of girls. There are no guaranteed hypotheses as to why headaches occur more and more among young patients. It is assumed, however, that an unfavourable lifestyle is partially responsible.

School and IT stress: most important trigger factors

At the Headache Center of the San Raffaele Institute in Milan, the research group assessed the headaches and migraine history of 125 children and adolescents. Standardised interviews with parents were conducted in order to determine the cause of the children's painful attacks in detail. Among those children for whom stress played a role as trigger factor, 78% - the highest ranking - was attributed to school related stress: among the essential elements, that included academic stress, exhaustive reading assignments and homework, exams, fear of failure but also bullying in the classroom.

In second place, involving 68% of the cases, sleep deprivation was identified as a trigger factor - caused by nightly television, computer games or use of social networking. Other stress factors triggering pain were family stress (25%), travelling (20%), extracurricular activities such as sport (20%), environmental factors such as weather changes or noise (10%), or stressful life events such as the illness or death of someone close (10%). For many of the children studied, the researchers also found other symptoms in addition to headaches that were caused by stress, such as stomach aches, nightmares or trouble concentrating.