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Adolescents and Headaches

By: Ian Murnaghan BSc (hons), MSc - Updated: 4 Mar 2013 | comments*Discuss
Headache Migraine Stress Anxiety

Headaches can be quite common in childhood and often increase in frequency during the teenage years. Your teen's headaches may be prompted by a specific stressful event or may be due to any other number of factors such as hormones prescription medications, illegal drugs or lifestyle.


The teen years are a time when eating disorders may emerge. Long periods of time without food can leave blood sugar low, which triggers headaches. Use of laxatives and diuretics as well as purging food by vomiting can lead to a constant state of dehydration and frequent headaches. Excessive consumption of sugary foods can also lead to headaches. It's not always enough to just tell your teen what he or she should be eating and when, although this is a start. Try, whenever possible, to lead by example.

If your teen sees you eating nutritious foods and also eating on a regular basis, this sets the standard for him or her to follow. If your teen has developed a sensitivity or allergy to a certain food, a headache diary may help to pinpoint the offending food. Your teen's doctor may also conduct direct allergy testing to determine if a food is responsible for headaches or migraines.


Common stresses that happen in a family are marriage problems, separation and divorce. These can be devastating for teens and when a conflict is ongoing, such as frequent fighting in the home, teens may suffer from chronic headaches. If your teen is complaining of frequent headaches and you are aware of family problems, consider counselling. Many schools provide counselling for students free of charge.

Alternately, you may wish to have group counselling where the entire family can share feelings and discuss ways of coping. Communication is key and your teen's headaches aren't likely to disappear if you don't facilitate open communication. Some studies have suggested that teens actually benefit more from alternative approaches to headache treatment than do adults, so this may be a preferable choice for some as opposed to prescription drugs. Teens are often intrigued by alternative approaches and may be willing to try methods such as yoga and acupuncture.


Adolescent girls may find that they experience headaches around the time of menstruation. It is thought that the fluctuations in oestrogen levels trigger headaches in women. As menstrual cycles may already be irregular during the teen years when puberty and development are occurring, headaches can strike rather sporadically. Menstrual migraines can also occur just before and after a girl has her period while other non-migraine headaches may attack during menstruation, when oestrogen levels are low. If your teen can identify the early signs of an oncoming headache, he or she can try over-the-counter pain relievers such as acetaminophen to prevent the headache from getting worse.


Many people will experience their first migraine during the teenage years. Headaches are common among teens but migraines are different. They are an intense throbbing headache, often accompanied by dizziness, vomiting and the appearance of halos or light spots around objects. During earlier childhood years, migraines generally afflict boys and girls equally but after puberty, women are affected about three times more than men. Migraines can wreck havoc on a teen's ability to function. He or she may frequently miss school, avoid sports and feel unable to socialise with other teens.

Treatment for migraines is often complex and involves identifying personal triggers and may require prescription drugs. Your teen's doctor is the primary person for providing an effective treatment plan.


Various illnesses that tend to strike during teen years, such as glandular fever and frequent bacterial infections such as strepthroat can result in headaches, either directly from the illness itself or from antibiotics prescribed. Mental illnesses such as anxiety and depression trigger headaches and may also occur from the strain of handling chronic headaches themselves. Immediate relief can be obtained from over-the-counter medications but do check to ensure any prescription drugs don't contraindicate them. You can also have your teen lie down in a dark room and you can place a cool compress on your teen's head to soothe the pain.

Illegal Drugs

The teen years are often a time of experimentation with illegal drugs and many of these cause withdrawal headaches in addition to other more severe effects. Amphetamines and other stimulant drugs can leave users with intense headaches as the drug wears off. If you suspect that your teen is suffering from drug-related headaches, you can try to speak to him or her but it may also be wise to seek advice from your doctor or a school counsellor on how to best approach the subject.

Headaches from Prescription Medications

Your teen's headaches may be triggered by prescription medications. Medications often prescribed to teens are birth control pills and antibiotics such as tetracycline for acne; both of these can trigger headaches. Some girls may find that birth control pills make headaches worse while others will experience significant relief from head pain. Other drugs your teen may be taking include vitamin A based prescription drugs for acne, such as isotretinoin. Although isotretinoin is effective for severe acne, it does have many side effects such as headaches.

The adolescent years can be a complicated and stressful time, but can also be full of exciting changes, new experiences and friendships. Headaches may be infrequent or chronic but fortunately, they are rarely caused by a serious disorder. By addressing headaches and their sources now, your teen can spend more time enjoying the adolescent years.

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