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Migraines & Headaches Health Center

Obesity, Smoking Linked to Teen Migraines

Study Shows Lack of Exercise Also May Also Increase Chances of Migraines in Teenagers
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Start of School Year Is a Vulnerable Time

Adolescent headache specialist Andrew D. Hershey, MD, PhD, tells WebMD that most children and teens with migraines and other severe, chronic headaches are genetically predisposed to have them.

Hershey directs the headache center at Cincinnati Children's Hospital Medical Center.

"Children with migraines tend to have a parent who has had them," he says. "Environmental influences come into play by causing headaches to be expressed more frequently."

Hershey's own research, published last year, found that overweight children who suffered from frequent headaches had fewer headaches after losing weight.

He says lifestyle counseling is a critical, but often overlooked, component of treating headaches. His advice to his patients:

  • Eat regular, balanced meals.
  • Get plenty of sleep.
  • Stay hydrated with drinks that do not contain caffeine.
  • Exercise at least four times a week.

"The two most common triggers for headaches in kids is skipping meals and not getting enough sleep," he says.

That makes the start of a new school year a particularly vulnerable time for junior high and high school students because their natural sleep cycle is often disturbed.

Around the time of puberty, adolescents develop a sleep phase delay that makes it natural for them to fall asleep later in the evening and wake up later in the morning.

"Most teens have to get up at 6:00 or 6:30 to get to school and many skip breakfast to get a little more sleep," he says. "That is two strikes against them before the day even gets started. Every year around the end of September and early October we see a big increase in headache cases."

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