When Big Headaches Hit Little Ones

Migraines in children linked to poorer academic performance

/ Author:  / Reviewed by: Robert Carlson, M.D

(RxWiki News) A migraine headache can knock you flat — and that's for an adult. Imagine how migraines might affect children, especially when it comes to school.

A recent study found children experiencing migraine headaches do poorer in school. Children with episodic and chronic migraine were 30 percent more likely to have below-average academic performance.

The more severe, the more frequent and the longer lasting the headaches, the worse the students tended to do in school.

"Children's migraines need attention - speak with a doctor."

The study, led by Marco A. Arruda, MD, PhD, of the Glia Institute at Ribeirão Preto in Sao Paulo, Brazil, aimed to find out how children suffering from migraines perform in school.

The researchers asked 124 teachers to conduct interviews with a total of 5,671 children, aged 5 to 12, from throughout Brazil.

The teachers gave the researchers information about how well the students were doing in school in terms of their different academic skills for their grade level and filled out standardized questionnaires related to the children's emotional and behavioral issues.

The researchers also used a standard scale to measure symptoms of attention deficit hyperactivity disorder in the children and to gather additional information on their academic performance.

Finally, the teachers interviewed the parents with standardized surveys about whether their children had headaches, including episodic migraines, chronic migraine and probable migraine.

Episodic migraine means a person has 0 to 14 migraine headaches in a month whereas chronic migraine means the person has 15 or more headaches a month for at least three months.

A probable migraine is a severe headache that has all but one of the clinical requirements for a migraine diagnosis.

Chronic migraine was only identified in 0.6 percent of the students while 9 percent had episodic migraine and 17.6 percent had probable migraine.

Episodic migraines were more common in the older children (age 9 to 12). Chronic migraines were more likely in those from the lower middle class or living in poverty.

Overall, 20.6 percent of the students did not report having any headaches at all.

If they had scores indicating a mental health condition or if they had nausea with the headache, these factors also were linked to poorer academic performance.

“Parents and teachers need to take these headaches seriously and make sure children get appropriate medical attention and treatment," said co-author Marcelo E. Bigal, MD, PhD, in a release about the study.

Dr. Bigal works in the Office of the Chief Medical Officer at Merck & Co. and in the Department of Neurology at Albert Einstein College of Medicine in New York City.

The study was published October 29 in the journal Neurology. The research was conducted without external funding. The authors declare no disclosures except Dr. Bigal's employment at Merck.

Reviewed by: 
Review Date: 
October 27, 2012
Last Updated:
October 29, 2012