13 July 2005

Headaches alter lives of kids

For children and teens, migraines can affect their quality of life as much as having arthritis or even cancer, a new study finds.


For children and teens, migraines can affect their quality of life as much as having arthritis or even cancer, a new study finds.

Researchers from Cincinnati Children's Hospital Headache Center evaluated 572 youths between two and 18 years of age who had come to the centre for treatment, asking them and their parents how their headaches affected their daily life. Of this group, 99 percent had a migraine diagnosis and 40 percent of those had migraines termed chronic daily headaches, says study author Scott Powers, co-director of the headache centre.

The findings are published in the July issue of Pediatrics.

Lower quality of life
Powers and his colleagues then compared the children with headaches to groups of 730 healthy children, 339 children with cancer such as leukaemia and 271 children with rheumatologic diseases such as rheumatoid arthritis. All youngsters and their parents (or just the parents in the case of the two- to four-year-olds) were asked about their quality of life in four areas of functioning: physical, emotional, social and educational.

Compared to the normal children, they had a lower quality of life, both based on their own report and their parents' report of their perception of the child, Powers says of those with headaches. Overall, the total score for healthy children was 83 (of 100 possible), but just 73 for headache sufferers.

Migraine kids have more trouble with school
When compared with children with cancer and rheumatologic disease, the children with migraines had more problems with school and emotional functioning. But they had higher physical and social functioning, the researchers found.

Parents of the children with headaches reported lower educational and emotional functioning compared with the parents of children with rheumatologic disease, but not when compared with the parents of children with cancer.Social functioning was the least different, Powers says. Social activities engage the brain [and] are distracting, Powers says. In general, a kid having a migraine might try to engage in social activities; it's easier than sitting in an algebra class.

No comparison to kids with cancer?
While some might argue there's no comparison in the quality of life of a child with cancer to one who suffers migraines, Powers explains they decided to compare children with cancer, rheumatoid conditions and migraine headaches because all are chronic illnesses.

Migraine can be debilitating, says Sharon Wells, a Mesa, Arizona resident whose son, Tony, died of non-Hodgkin's lymphoma. Comparing the quality of life of children with migraines to those who have cancer or rheumatoid conditions makes a little more sense to her, she says, than previous research which compared the quality of life of obese children with that of children with cancer.

But, she adds, I don't put migraines on the same level as cancer.

A prevalent and under-recognised condition
To Powers, the study results provide some insight into a childhood condition that he says is prevalent and under-recognized. Published studies have shown that about one in 10 children and one in four teens have headaches, he says.

Sometimes, children are seen by several doctors who suspect other diagnoses before the correct one is made, Powers says. At the centre, he says, doctors see about 400 new patients a year. Their average age is 11, and many of them have had headaches since they were eight, he says.

Kids with headaches are really suffering
Dr Seymour Diamond, director of the Diamond Headache Clinic in Chicago and a professor of family medicine at Chicago Medical School, praises the new research. It's a good study, he says. It really stresses the importance of the disability and the effects and how it alters the lives of these kids.

The finding that really surprised me, he adds, was the comparison of kids with cancer and with rheumatoid arthritis. That finding proves that youngsters with headache are really suffering, he says, and it really emphasizes what I have known for years: That there is a lot of disability and a lot of quality-of-life factors in children having migraines.

Manage your lifestyle
At the Cincinnati Headache Center, Powers says, everyone gets suggestions on how to manage their lifestyle to minimize attacks. Among the suggestions: Drink plenty of water, get enough sleep, eat regularly and get regular exercise. – (HealthDayNews)

Read more:
Kids 'draw' headaches to help docs
Child headaches predict adult problems
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Dr Elliot Shevel is a South African migraine surgery pioneer and the founder and medical director of The Headache Clinic in Johannesburg, Durban and Cape Town, South Africa. The Headache Clinic is a multidisciplinary practice dedicated to the diagnosis and treatment of Primary Headaches and Migraines. Dr Shevel is also the main author of all scientific publications generated by his team. He recently won a high level science debate in which he was able to prove that the current migraine diagnosis and classification is not based on data. Tertiary Education - Dr Shevel holds both Dental and Medical degrees, and practises as a specialist Maxillo-facial and Oral Surgeon. Follow the Headache Clinic on Twitter@HeadacheClinic.

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