Headaches in children are often underestimated

According to studies, more than two-thirds of schoolchildren have headaches on a regular basis. Around 20% of children and adolescents repeatedly miss lessons as a result.

Lack of therapy for children with headaches

According to studies, more than two-thirds of schoolchildren have headaches on a regular basis. Around 20% of children and adolescents repeatedly miss lessons as a result. Often, pressure to perform, emotional stress, too much screen time and too little exercise are the cause - the lockdown has exacerbated these factors. Nevertheless, headaches in children are often not taken seriously - although simple therapeutic measures could often alleviate the pain. How interdisciplinary concepts help to prevent headaches from becoming chronic.

When children and adolescents regularly suffer from headaches, they can quickly get into a vicious circle of reduced performance, school anxiety and social isolation.1 "Parents should not trivialise headaches. Headaches can severely affect young people's everyday lives and futures," says Professor Dr. Gudrun Goßrau, MD, head of the headache outpatient clinic at the Interdisciplinary University Pain Centre at Dresden University Hospital and congress president of the German Pain Congress 2021.

In a cross-sectional study in Dresden, with over 2,700 schoolchildren surveyed, more than two thirds of all respondents stated that they regularly suffered from headaches.2 More than one fifth of all children and adolescents with more than two headache days per month were regularly absent from school as a result. "Only very few people receive a medical diagnosis and treatment for their headaches," says the headache expert. "Yet migraine and tension headache are the most common independent pain diagnoses in children and adolescents." Alarmingly, headaches are often treated with over-the-counter medicines instead. "However, children should only take painkillers if they have been prescribed by their physician in an appropriate dosage," Goßrau continues. Because if taken frequently, medicines can also intensify headaches. Some of them are not even suitable for children.

Child headache: Sensitisation of all participants necessary

Data from a recent Munich study show that migraine in the vulnerable transitional phase between adolescence and adulthood is associated with an increased risk of developing further pain in adulthood.3 "There is therefore an acute need for action if children regularly suffer from headaches," says Goßrau. Often, simple but targeted measures can lead to relief. These include, for example, changing the daily rhythm, more relaxation times (without mobile phones), drinking enough and sleeping regularly. "Regular exercise and less pressure from deadlines also reduce headaches considerably," says the expert.

Once headaches in children and adolescents have led to restrictions in everyday life, interdisciplinary concepts are needed - such as the Dresden Children's Headache Programme (DreKiP). This is a group therapy programme consisting of eight different modules. "In Germany, there is still a need for care that is not covered by the existing therapy structures," says Goßrau. In order to close this gap in care, social efforts are necessary. These start with raising the awareness of parents and teachers, considering headaches as a symptom of the disease as well as the corresponding training of the actors in the health system. In addition, specific as well as interdisciplinary therapy options for children and adolescents with headaches urgently need to be created.

1. Nieswand V., Richter M., Gossrau G. Epidemiology of Headache in Children and Adolescents—Another Type of Pandemic Crossref DOI link: https://doi.org/10.1007/S11916-020-00892-6, Published: 2020-10
2. Nieswand V, Richter M, Berner R et al. The prevalence of headache in German pupils of different ages and school types. Cephalalgia. 2019 Jul;39(8):1030-1040
3. Gerstl L, Tadych N, Heinen F et al. Migraine and the development of additional psychiatric and pain disorders in the transition from adolescence to adulthood. Cephalalgia. 2021 Jun 23:3331024211021792. doi: https://doi.org/10.1177/03331024211021792