Tuesday, June 9, 2009

Sue Scheff: Migraines and tension headaches impact many teen lives

By Sheryl Butterfield

June 7-13 is National Headache Awareness Week. According to the National Headache Foundation, 20 percent of U.S. kids ages 5-17 suffer from chronic headaches. Those 10.3 million young sufferers usually experience tension-type (15 percent) or migraine headaches (5 percent).
Kids get headaches for the same reasons adults do, but young people have a harder time handling them.

The National Headache Foundation educates families to know that young sufferers can “have fun, do well in school, and lead active lives.” Their new Headache U Web page was developed to give headache sufferers tools to cope on a personal level.

In their Adult Guide to Children’s Headache section, the foundation stresses the importance of understanding triggers, symptoms, prevention and treatments.

Ways adults can help teen headache sufferers:

Understand types of headaches – Headaches are migraine, tension or organic. Migraines are mostly inherited and tend to affect girls more often. Parents should not feel guilty about passing on migraines to their children. It’s counter-productive to positive treatment. Tension headaches can occur several times a month or even daily. Organic headaches are the result of serious disease or physical problems such as tumor, head trauma or abscesses. Thankfully, less than 5 percent of youth headaches are the result of organic problems.

Help develop the diagnosis – Use your teen’s medical history in tandem with a family doctor, pediatrician, or specialist during physical and neurological exams.

Understand the impact of headaches on the teen’s life – Chronic headaches affect kids’ home and school lives. The foundation recommends being sensitive and acknowledging concerns but not spending too much time on pampering. A parent’s goal is to help their child understand what is happening and take control so they can “pursue a rewarding lifestyle.”

Use professional resources – The foundation provides a list that includes newsletters and books containing practical information and insight on headaches.

The National Headache Foundation advises young sufferers on their Headache Headstart pages. The introduction lists famous people who have achieved success while dealing with chronic headaches.

Tips for teen headache sufferers:

Understand types of headaches – Understanding the warning signs of tension headaches and migraines is the first step to taking action.

Take control – Teens need to figure out ways to reduce stress, how exercise and relaxation can help, and which foods or drinks might trigger their headaches. It helps to take care of the headache then communicate to friends what’s happening. The foundation also recommends that kids accept themselves, try their best and do what’s right for them.

Know you can have fun – Even with chronic headaches, teens can still have fun. They need to understand they are not alone; many kids suffer from chronic headaches. Some events will be missed. They may need to talk with an adult about feeling left out. Avoiding triggers and taking control to reduce or prevent headaches is a practical way to stay positive.

Recognize symptoms and frequency of headaches – Be an investigator of yourself. Take action. Visit your doctor and discuss family history, when headaches occur and how often, what you’re eating or drinking when headaches come on, and what activities you’re doing when you get a headache. Communicate with adults and friends in your life. Know that there are professionals who can help.

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