Teens' Chronic Headaches Often Improve With Time

Many teenagers with chronic headaches may see the problem wane as they get older, a study published Wednesday suggests.

Between 1 percent and 2 percent of middle-school-age children suffer chronic daily headaches — meaning they have headaches on at least 15 days out of the month. The head pain may come in the form of migraines, less-severe tension-type headaches or some combination of headache types.

It has been unclear how often these children "outgrow" the disorder.

In the new study, Taiwanese researchers found that among 103 12- to 14- year-olds with chronic daily headaches, most saw their symptoms improve over the next eight years.

Sixty percent no longer met the criteria for chronic daily headaches 1 year into the study, and by year 8, only 12 percent were still suffering headaches that frequently, the researchers report in the journal Neurology.

The findings are good news for children and parents, according to lead researcher Dr. Shuu-Jiun Wang, of the National Yang-Ming University School of Medicine in Taipei.

"Chronic daily headache is a disabling but, luckily, also a fluid disorder," Wang told Reuters Health.

That does not necessarily mean that children's headaches will disappear, however.

In the study's final year, 69 percent of patients still had headaches at least once per month — most commonly migraines.

Parents and children, according to Wang, need to be prepared for the possibility that while headache frequency is likely to decline, headaches may never fully go away.

The researchers also found that certain children were at relatively higher risk of long-term chronic headaches — including those whose headaches began before the teen years, children who were suffering migraines at the outset, and those who overused painkillers.

Few teenagers in the study were under a specialist's care for their headaches, and only 5 percent were taking medication designed to prevent chronic headaches.

So the improvements seen in this study likely reflect the passage of time rather than the effects of any treatment, according to Wang. It's not known, the researcher said, whether treatment would speed up the process.