Migraine Headaches in Teens

By Sara Ipatenco
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Almost all teenagers get a headache from time to time, but a small number of teens experience migraines. While traditional headaches aren't usually accompanied by other symptoms, migraines almost always cause symptoms other than pain. If your teen complains of severe head pain several times a month, it warrants a trip to her pediatrician. Your teen's doctor will examine her, ask a series of questions and determine whether the headaches are true migraines.


Migraines are severe recurrent headaches that usually begin in childhood. Migraine headaches are far more painful than traditional tension headaches or headaches associated with the common cold or the flu. According to HealthyChildren.org, a migraine headache causes throbbing or stabbing pain and can occur on one or both sides of the head. Your teen might also complain of burning, tingling, aching or squeezing sensations. The pain and discomfort can spread to the eyes and neck, too. The pain occurs when chemicals in the brain cause the blood vessels in the head to tighten, and it can last for several hours or overnight.


Up to 23 percent of all teens experience migraine headaches, according to the American Academy of Neurology. After puberty, three times more girls get migraine headaches than boys, and the headaches often correlate with the start of their period, the Women's and Children's Health Network reports. This might occur because of hormonal changes. In fact, many teen girls don't get their first migraine until after they've gotten their first period.

Signs and Symptoms

There are four stages of a migraine headache, though your teen might not go through all four each and every time he gets a headache. According to MayoClinic.com, the first stage is the prodrome, which occurs one or two days before the headache itself. During this stage, your teen might experience constipation, depression, food cravings, hyperactivity, neck stiffness and irritability. The second stage is aura, which many teens don't experience. This lasts for 10 to 30 minutes before the migraine and can cause visual changes, vision loss, tingling in the arms and legs and speech problems. The third stage is the headache itself, and it can be accompanied by nausea, vomiting, sensitivity to light, diarrhea and lightheadedness. The last stage is called the postdrome, and usually results in tiredness, but your teen might also feel euphoric, likely because he's so relieved that the pain is gone.


If your teen has a sudden and severe headache that's unlike any headache she's ever had, take her to the emergency room immediately. This can occur with meningitis, concussion or bleeding in the brain, and requires immediate medical attention, according to MayoClinic.com. If your teen gets regular migraine headaches, make an appointment with her pediatrician. A physician can prescribe effective treatments that reduce the severity of the headache and reduce the number she has, as well. Help your teen avoid common triggers of a migraine. Encourage your teen to eat regular meals, avoid bright lights and find ways to manage stress, each of which can help prevent migraines. Don't treat your teen's migraines on your own. Always get doctor approval before using any kind of medication or alternative medicine. If your teen's doctor prescribes medication, follow the dosing instructions exactly. If you have a daughter, ask her pediatrician about birth control pills, which can regulate her hormones and help reduce the number of migraine headaches around her period.