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Migraine and Chronic Pain in Teenagers

Having a chronic illness or chronic pain is life-altering and the stigma of invisible illness can be infuriating for anyone, but it can be especially difficult for teenagers. Sometimes the very people who are supposed to support and protect them — teachers, coaches, school nurses, doctors and even parents — don’t even believe them. (Sadly, many of you don’t have to imagine this scenario because you lived it.)

Psychology professor and Psychology Today blogger Nancy Darling, whose teen son has migraine, provides an insightful and touching take on migraine and chronic pain in teenagers.

Withdrawn, Irritable Teen? Is It A Migraine? points out that migraine often doesn’t look like migraine and that the associated¬†absentmindedness, irritability and isolation can look like a normal “teenage funk.” She also explains why migraine looks so much like a kid trying to get out of going to school.

Children Who Go to School in Pain walks readers through a day when her son has a migraine. The most poignant part is “faking being well.” That’s right, despite the common accusation that the chronically ill are faking illness, many of us are actually faking being well. Whether you’re a teenager or adult, I’m betting that resonates with many of you; it certainly does me.

Please take a look at Dr. Darling’s posts. Even if you’re not a parent, the struggles she describes are important for everyone to be aware of. As a former teenager with chronic illness, I’m relieved to read about a topic that gets far too little attention.

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High Frequency & Severity of Migraine in Teens

As a teenager, my occasional headaches became chronic within a couple years. Many other people have told me the same story and a study presented at the 58th Annual Meeting of the American Academy of Neurology confirms the frequency of this occurrence.

The nationwide study of 18,714 adolescents found that headaches are causing a lot of disability for kids 12 to 19 years and that their headaches are not adequately treated. In a one-year period, 5% of boys and 7.7% of girls reported frequent migraines.

Researchers found that adolescents’ migraines often go from one or two times a month to 10 to 15 times a month within a couple years. The quick transition from occasional to chronic migraine is astonishing. Especially because there is some evidence that headaches become harder and harder to treat as their frequency increases.