Headache in children: warning against careless pain medication

Headache in children: warning against careless pain medication

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Over two thirds of all students regularly suffer from headaches

An investigation has shown that more than two thirds of children and adolescents in Germany have regular headaches. However, only a few of them see a doctor. Not least because the advertising of the pain reliever manufacturers suggests that everyone can treat their symptoms themselves. But experts warn against careless pain medication.

Few schoolchildren with a headache go to the doctor

A survey carried out in Germany showed that more than two thirds of the children and adolescents surveyed regularly have a headache. As the German Society for Neurology (DGN) reports in a message, the proportion among high school students was almost 80 percent. However, only very few went to see a doctor, which also shows that headaches are not perceived in our society as a "real" illness. According to the experts, headaches are a relevant health problem in childhood and adolescence and should be treated individually and in good time by a doctor.

A third don't have a headache at all

Between March 2015 and March 2016, a total of 5,419 pupils who attended primary or secondary school in Dresden were surveyed as part of the survey.

2,706 of them answered the questionnaire and submitted it for evaluation. The survey looked at how often children and adolescents had had headaches in the past three months, to what extent and what measures had been taken.

The results were published in "Cephalalgia", the magazine of the international headache society.

According to the DGN, just under 32 percent of those surveyed stated that they did not have a headache at all, almost 37 percent had a headache once a month, and almost 32 percent even more than twice a month.

The latter group was examined further. 55 percent had headaches two to five days a month, 27 percent had five to ten days.

Seven percent of those in the group who have headaches more than twice a month even said they suffered more than 15 days a month.

It was also striking that the headache frequency varied with the type of school: almost 64 percent of primary schoolchildren had regular headaches, almost 68 percent in high schools and almost 80 percent in secondary schools.

Overall, girls were affected more often than boys.

Self-therapy is not recommended

A total of 624 children and adolescents stated that they were taking pain medication or homeopathic remedies for pain.

In acute headache attacks, the most commonly used agents were ibuprofen (49 percent) and acetaminophen (32 percent).

In the group who had headache only once a month, almost a fifth took painkillers, in the group of those who suffered from headache more than twice a month, almost half said they took painkillers regularly.

It was striking that almost all children who had headaches only once a month and about 80 percent of those who had headaches more than twice a month did not see a doctor.

Prof. Dr. Hans-Christoph Diener, spokesman for the DGN, sees this as a mistake. "The advertising of the pain reliever manufacturers suggests that everyone can treat their headaches themselves and you don't need a diagnosis from the doctor," said the expert.

"That is certainly wrong, a migraine is treated differently than a cluster headache."

Expert warns against careless pain medication

Prof. Diener also warns against careless use of pain medication, since headache medication, if taken frequently, can cause and aggravate headaches.

"In childhood, the foundation stone is often laid for a lax attitude towards painkillers, which can then lead to overuse of painkillers in later phases of life."

This is despite the fact that headaches can often be treated entirely without medication.

For example, a few drops of lemon balm spirit are applied to a piece of sugar and taken as a household remedy for headaches that is known to many people.

Another is coffee with lemon. For this you press the juice of half a lemon into a cup of espresso - but without sweeteners.

In addition, relaxation procedures can help, especially in childhood headaches, as shown in a study.
[GList slug = ”10 home remedies for headache”]

A serious illness

According to Priv.-Doz. Gudrun Goßrau, author of the study and head of the headache outpatient clinic at the Interdisciplinary University Pain Center in Dresden, said the unwillingness to seek medical treatment is also an expression of a lack of awareness of headache as a serious illness in our society.

“But headaches are a relevant health problem in childhood and adolescence. As our survey has shown, quality of life and performance are severely impaired in both young and older people. ”

For example, the study also showed that over a fifth of all children and adolescents who had headaches more than twice a month are more likely to be absent from school because of headaches.

“Headaches often lead to a vicious cycle. School absenteeism can lead to a drop in performance, school failure, school anxiety, many affected children isolate themselves socially, and the risk of depression is increased. "

It is therefore all the more important to have a timely medical diagnosis and individual therapy for these children and adolescents.

Lifestyle factors are likely to play an important role

As the DGN writes, the high headache rate among schoolchildren that this study showed, as well as the increase in headache prevalence among young people that has been observed in many other epidemiological studies, also raise societal issues.

According to Prof. Ulrike Schara, Essen, President of the Society for Neuropediatrics, the increase in the headache rate in children in recent years indicates that there are no genetic factors to blame.

Rather, lifestyle factors are likely to play an important role.

"In addition to alcohol, caffeine, smoking and sedentary lifestyle, school stress and emotional stress (e.g. due to family conflicts) are common causes of headache. A prevention strategy for society as a whole must start at these points. ”(Ad)

More interesting articles on this topic can be found here:

  • Avoid chronification: what really helps against headaches
  • Constant stress: More and more young adults suffer from headaches
  • Natural home remedies for headaches

Author and source information

This text corresponds to the requirements of the medical literature, medical guidelines and current studies and has been checked by medical doctors.


  • German Society of Neurology (DGN): More than two thirds of all schoolchildren regularly suffer from headaches, (accessed: July 23, 2019), German Society of Neurology (DGN)
  • Cephalalgia: The prevalence of headache in German pupils of different ages and school types, (access: 23.07.2019), Cephalalgia

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