Headaches During Puberty

Between homework and hormones, it's no wonder that teenagers get a headache every now and then. Frequency of headaches increases as children grow, according to American Family Physician. Thirty-seven percent to 51 percent of children who are at least 7 years old report "frequent" headaches, and that number grows to 57 percent to 82 percent by age 15. Before puberty, boys experience more headache than girls, but that switches after the onset of puberty.

A teenage boy suffers with a headache. (Image: lovleah/iStock/Getty Images)

Prevalence

In a study from the "Scandinavian Journal of Primary Health Care," researchers noted that 68 percent of 14-year-olds had suffered from at least one headache in the past year. Out of these, 10.2 percent had suffered from a migraine. In both circumstances, girls were more commonly afflicted by the headaches.

Cause

In many cases, hormones are the culprit in teenage headaches. This is the age when migraines typically begin, according to the website Relieve-Migraine-Pain.com. These migraines could be caused by estrogen, the main hormone found in women, which explains why these severe headaches are found more often in girls. Estrogen levels increase during puberty, causing migraines to become more frequent in girls. Just before, during or after a menstrual period, a teen might experience migraines.

Headaches are a common sign of premenstrual syndrome, or PMS, which can begin up to one to two weeks before your period begins.

Treatment

Treatment depends on the type of headache. For headaches that result from stress because of school, friends or family life, try relaxations techniques as well as mild pain medications. For migraine headaches related to hormones, pediatrician Dr. Alan Greene recommends on his website to give the teen a dose of both ibuprofen and acetaminophen when the headache begins and having her lie down in a quiet, dark room. Both medications are recommended because ibuprofen is twice as effective as acetaminophen at treating a migraine; however, the acetaminophen works twice as fast.

Prevention

Although many headaches during puberty are related to hormones, there are other factors to be considered. Certain foods can be a trigger for a migraine, such as nuts, chocolate, hot dogs and luncheon meat—perhaps related to the nitrates and nitrites, according to Greene—and MSG. Birth control pills are also associated with migraines, which might be an issue with girls who have reached puberty.

Other known triggers that are prevalent among teenagers are being overtired, having gone too long without eating, stress, anxiety and excessive physical activity.

To prevent these headaches, monitor what the teenager was doing or eating when the headache or migraine started. If possible, prevent that activity or food in the future.

When to Go to the Doctor

Usually headaches are a normal part of going through puberty. However, if the headache becomes more frequent—especially if it reaches three times a week or more—or if your teen describes it as "the worst headache ever," visit the doctor. Monitor the amount of pain medication being taken as well. If the teen takes painkillers every day or finds that the medication doesn't manage his headaches, it's time to see the doctor. Other reasons to see a doctor is if the headache is accompanied by a stiff neck or fever or if the teen has blurry or double vision or is short of breath or dizzy.

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