Kids With Migraines: Drugs Not the Only Option
Jan. 8, 2001 -- Kids do get migraines, and treating them can be a real headache for parents worried about possible side effects from prescription drugs that often haven't been properly tested in children. But there are options that don't involve drugs, and among them is a technique that combines relaxation training with biofeedback. A new study confirms it can help reduce the severity, frequency, and length of migraines in youngsters.
Biofeedback is a way to teach people how to control certain bodily functions, such as sweating, breathing rate, or body temperature. In the case of headaches, biofeedback and relaxation training can help people reduce stress and possibly prevent future migraines by raising their level of awareness about what's happening within their body and learning to voluntarily control those changes.
Migraines are an especially severe form of headache that can cause intense pain (sometimes only on one side of the head), nausea, vomiting, sensitivity to light and noise, and dizziness. Migraines run in families and usually recur regularly in those who suffer from them.
It's estimated that 4-5% of children suffer from migraines, according to the American Headache Society, and the headaches can interfere with normal life, disrupting both playtime and schooltime. Boys and girls are equally prone to getting migraines, until puberty hits -- then they become three times more common in girls.
Studies like this one show that relaxation techniques coupled with biofeedback are a useful tool for preventing headaches in children and for reducing their severity, headache expert Lawrence Newman, MD, tells WebMD. The techniques can be used alone or in conjunction with medication, he says, and they can sometimes help a drug work better or help lower the dose needed.
"This was a small study, but it's potentially useful for a number of reasons," says Newman, director of the Headache Institute at Roosevelt Hospital Center in New York City. "One is that when dealing with children who have headaches, you want to avoid medications. ... There are no side effects [to relaxation and biofeedback], and other studies have shown that it's potentially useful. ... Most centers with biofeedback have the kids come back weekly for 8-10 sessions. This study is showing that after just one session, ... all but one were able to remember what they learned in that 1-hour session and were able to reproduce it."
Using relaxation training and medication, Scott W. Powers, PhD, and his team at the Cincinnati Children's Hospital in Ohio treated 10 girls and 10 boys who suffered regularly from migraine headaches. The relaxation program included things like instructions on deep breathing and muscle relaxation. It was assisted by a biofeedback technique that involved regular monitoring of the children's body temperature. The children were told to practice these techniques at home with the help of an audiotape at least three times a week and at the start of a headache.