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Kids and Brain Strain: August 19, 2012

Kids get headaches and migraines, too. Many adults with headaches started having them as children.  In fact, two percent of adult headache sufferers say it started before age ten; a large portion are tension headaches.

It was puzzling. Out of Margaret Karis’ four children, only her oldest, Isabel, suffers chronic headaches. It started when she was in elementary school.

“Probably about third grade or so when school started getting a little bit more labor intensive,” says Karis.

Children as young as three are getting headaches on a regular basis. By school age, more than half of kids report a monthly headache.

“This is actually one of the more frequent diagnoses that we see.  There’s a large number of children who have headaches,” says The Children’s Hospital of Southwest Florida pediatric neurologist Dr. Guillermo Philipps.

Headaches fall into two categories: primary, which includes migraines and tension headaches, and secondary, where the headache is a symptom of something else like a brain tumor.

“The way we figure out the difference is by history and examination.  We get the characteristics of the headache.  Is it throbbing or is it a pressure headache?  The other thing we pay close attention to is the frequency of the headaches. Are there any triggering factors?” says Dr. Philipps.

For a lot of kids, school is ground zero for brain strain. Common causes of tension headaches are stressing over class work, getting too little sleep, having too much caffeine. Another factor is food.

“Many children skip breakfast. I tell them that’s the most important meal of the day. The brain uses sugars from food as fuel, so if you don’t fuel up the tank, your brain’s going to get upset. And that can trigger headaches,” says Dr. Philipps.

It was a simple solution to Isabel’s problem.

“We eat breakfast so early and before lunch time she’s hungry. She just needs a little bit of sugar in her system and she’s okay,” says Karis.

Before popping a pain reliever, it pays to do some homework. Changing a few habits may alleviate your child’s headaches.