May 26, 2000 -- Migraines: They're not just for adults. In fact, experts have estimated that up to 5% of children struggle with this granddaddy of headaches. Unfortunately, if parents have them, chances are good that their children will get them, too. While most children's headaches are not dangerous or the result of severe disease, the pain, nausea, and light and sound sensitivity associated with them can be devastating for kids.
Now researchers have found that biofeedback training can significantly reduce the number, intensity, and length of these headaches in children.
Biofeedback is a training technique that enables a person to gain some control over involuntary body functions such as muscle tension or heart rate. In the case of headaches, biofeedback or relaxation training can help ease stress and reduce the chances of future migraines by helping the person raise their level of awareness about what's happening within their body and learning to increase voluntary control over the headache.
"This is very promising," Andrew M. Elmore, PhD, tells WebMD. "In my clinical practice, kids often do extremely well with biofeedback. ... It can teach them to calm their brains."
As director of the Biofeedback Clinic at Mt. Sinai School of Medicine and Mt. Sinai Hospital in New York, Elmore says he's looking forward to the day when biofeedback is a first-line treatment for migraines. "We want to be able to say to our patient 'go learn this, try it yourself; it has no side effects. Then if it doesn't work, we can prescribe stronger medications.'" he says. "I've seen children as young as eight do very well."
But some are concerned that studies like this may snub migraine medications, particularly in the HMO setting, because they can be costly. "Biofeedback definitely has its place in headache management, " says Michael Coleman, "but what I don't want to see is non-drug therapies like this ending up on the front-burner." Coleman in founder of Migraine Awareness Group: A National Understanding for Migraineurs, or MAGNUM.
As a migraine sufferer since age six, Coleman vividly remembers being at school, looking out at the big, puffy clouds, and being in horrible pain. "The teacher said 'put your head on your desk.' What would have been nice is if my headaches had been taken seriously. So many parents think their children have attention problems or need glasses. Parents need to read the warning signs and get the child to a doctor who understands migraines."
"The issue of children's migraines is starting to get the attention it deserves," Coleman says. Medical education seminars, pediatric studies, and even prominent people in Washington are all bringing about awareness of migraines.
"With better education, patients will have a better quality of life," he says. "Parents need to take this seriously and say to their kids 'let's learn about it and then attack it.' There's no doubt that a child who understands he can conquer migraines will be healthier and feel united with his family in the fight. That's very important for a child with a debilitating disease like this."
For more information about headaches, visit these web sites: MAGNUM at www.migraines.org; the American Council for Headache Education at www.achenet.org; and the National Institutes of Health Neurological Institute at www.ninds.nih.gov.