Headache in children, it is better if the stress subsides


  • 1 Headache in children
  • 2 What are the primary headaches
  • 3 Causes of secondary headaches
  • 4 How to diagnose headaches in children
  • 5 How to treat headaches in children
  • 6 The study of the Child Jesus on headache in children
  • 7 Research results
  • 8 The myths about headaches in children

We often think that headache is typically an adult disorder, caused by stress, by neck pains or simply by some situations, such as the arrival of the menstrual cycle or pregnancy. But this is not the case: headaches in children are a real thing, not their invention to earn a day off from school. And it is also much more frequent than we think. Now a study by the Bambino Gesù Pediatric Hospital in the city reveals an interesting fact: despite its countless negative aspects, last spring's lockdown period made headaches improve for many children. And that's good news. 

Headache in children

Headache is a fairly common problem in the pediatric population, particularly in school age. Sometimes it happens that very young children suffer from it, but it is difficult to identify it, especially due to the inability of children to tell what hurts them. There are two types of headaches in children:

  • Primary headaches: these are neurological diseases that are linked to a genetic predisposition. For example, if parents suffer from headaches it is very likely that their children also have the same problem. Attacks usually repeat.
  • Secondary headaches: in this case the headache is a symptom of some other disease. A more accurate diagnosis is therefore necessary to find the problem upstream. 

What are the primary headaches

They belong to this category: 

  • Migraine (with or without aura).
  • Cefalea tensiva.
  • Cluster headache.

Migraine is the most classic form of pediatric headache. The one with aura presents with neurological symptoms such as impaired vision, tingling in the body or difficulty in moving a limb or half of the body, difficulty in speech. 

The tension headache is typical in particular of the adolescent period, while the cluster headache (very intense and disabling) is fortunately rare in children.

Causes of secondary headaches

Secondary headaches can be caused by various factors: 

  • Sinusiti.
  • Infections of the upper airways (flu syndromes, colds, pharyngitis, etc.).
  • Meningo-encephalitic inflammatory disorders.
  • Brain tumors.

How to diagnose headaches in children

The first reference figure to which one must turn is, as always, the pediatrician. He has known our children from birth, so he knows exactly what they are like, the diseases they have had etc. It will therefore be he who will evaluate if the headache is temporary, if there is a genetic predisposition or if it needs to be studied better, to understand if the triggering cause is to be found somewhere else.

To get a clearer idea and make an accurate diagnosis, the pediatrician might therefore suggest that you seek the advice of a specialist, especially if he suspects you are dealing with a secondary headache. The highest level of specialization is that of the Headache Centers. However, it is important that there are professionals who are experienced with children. The differences with adults (also from the point of view of approach and empathy) are enormous. 

How to treat headaches in children

For the primary forms the treatments are different. There are various types of drugs available, but it goes without saying that a doctor must prescribe them. If doing your own thing as an adult is unfair, let alone when it comes to children. Therefore, it is better to be prepared and to inform yourself well with your pediatrician or with the reference specialist. 

Treatment of secondary headaches depends on the cause of the headache. For example, if sinusitis is causing it, anti-inflammatories may be needed. 

The study of the Child Jesus on headache in children

The research we mentioned at the beginning and of which we now speak better, has been published in the scientific journal “Cephalalgia”, the official organ of the International Headache Society. It was coordinated by the team of neuropediators and psychologists of the Bambino Gesù Headache Center in collaboration with the Headache Centers of the University of Padua, University of L'Aquila, University of Insubria of Varese, Sant'Andrea Hospital of the city, Department of Neuropsychiatry Infantile of Via dei Sabelli of the city, Besta Institute of the city, San Paolo Hospital of Bari and Civic Hospital of Palermo.

The survey enrolled 707 families with children and adolescents between 5 and 18 years of age, diagnosed with primary headache (migraine and tension headache). Parents and children were given an anonymous questionnaire that explored the progress of the headache before and during the lockdown, the characteristics of the disease (frequency and intensity of attacks), the therapies followed (which and how many drugs), the variations of mood, lifestyle and school activity to assess the impact of these factors on headache.

The results of the research

The analysis of the data showed a significant improvement in headache for 46% of children and young people, a worsening for 15%, no significant variation for 39%. In the first group, the frequency of monthly attacks decreased on average by 28% (from 7 to 5 episodes per month), with decreases by as much as 40% among children with the most severe forms of headache (from 15 to 9 monthly attacks).

The main cause of the improvement can be found in the reduction of school anxiety in the period of isolation due to the lockdown. The researchers observed that the lower the stress test scores, the greater the improvement. On the contrary, in boys with a worsening headache, the persistence of feelings of school anxiety was found despite the transition to distance learning. Almost irrelevant, however, the use of anti-migraine drugs: 14% of the boys were on drug therapy and did not show significant differences in the reduction of attacks compared to those who did not take drugs.

The myths about headaches in children

When a child claims to have a headache, the mother always gets defensive: “Help. What's wrong? ". In other cases, however, there is a tendency to minimize, thinking that it is a passing malaise or an excuse to skip school or a football or dance lesson. Halfway between the two positions, there are also a number of myths about pediatric headache that need to be refuted. Here is the interesting infographic edited by the experts of the Child Jesus.

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