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A healthy head on a healthy body –

How young people can guard against headaches and migraine

Munich, 06/10/2010

Almost everyone suffers from headache at one time or another. Indeed, in surveys, about 70% of the population report that they are afflicted with recurrent or chronic headache, most often migraine and tension-type headache. Young people are also among those affected. A research team led by LMU epidemiologists Dr. Astrid Milde-Busch and Professor Rüdiger von Kries has now carried out the first large-scale investigation of the incidence of headache among adolescents, focusing on the possible role of smoking, consumption of alcohol and coffee, nutrition and physical exercise as predisposing factors. The study showed that high levels of consumption of alcohol and tobacco increase the frequency of tension-type headache and migraine. Furthermore, they found a positive correlation between coffee intake or lack of exercise with the incidence of migraine attacks. “The risk that headaches will become chronic is quite high”, says von Kries. “Our work shows that the incidence of chronic headache could be effectively reduced, if people would follow some simple guidelines.” (Headache: The Journal of Head and Face Pain, 7 June 2010)

Headaches are among the ailments most frequently reported by young people. Some 15 to 20% of adolescents suffer from tension-type headaches, while a further 5 to 10% are subject to attacks of migraine. It is well known that alcohol, nicotine and caffeine play a role in provoking attacks of headache. However, this correlation has emerged so far only in surveys of adults who suffer from recurrent headaches. Whether or not it holds for adolescent sufferers has remained unclear. An LMU research team led by Dr. Astrid Milde-Busch and Professor Rüdiger von Kries has now studied the question by surveying a group of 1260 young people between the ages of 14 and 20, recruited from senior classes at several secondary schools in the Munich area. All participants completed a questionnaire designed to determine the incidence of headache among the study population during both the previous week and the preceding 6 months. They were also asked to provide information on their lifestyle and diet, with particular reference to the consumption of alcohol, nicotine and coffee.

“In all, 83% of respondents reported having had at least one headache in the course of the previous 6 months“, says Astrid Milde-Busch. “Of these, 49% complained of attacks of tension-type headache and 10% of migraine; a further 20% said that had had episodes of both types of headache.“ Some 54% of the survey participants reported drinking alcohol at least once a week, 27% smoked at least occasionally, while 57% reported that they drank coffee either on occasion or regularly. Closer investigation of the responses revealed significant correlations between lifestyle and the incidence of headache. “Migraine attacks were significantly more likely to occur in those who drank lots of coffee and took little exercise“, says Dr. Milde-Busch. “Tension-type headaches in combination with migraine were also linked with high coffe intake and physical inactivity. Furthermore, we also noted a clear association with alcohol and tobacco consumption.“

In contrast to these factors, quality of diet and the level of daily fluid intake showed little or no association with the incidence of headache. “Our study demonstrated that many young people regularly skipped breakfast and often missed meals in the course of the day“ says von Kries. “However, to our surprise, we found no evidence for a link between this behavior and the frequency of headache. The take-home lesson from our study is that adolescents who suffer from any type of headache would benefit from regular physical exercise and less alcohol. Those who are prone to migraine attacks should also reduce their consumption of coffee and caffeine-containing beverages. These simple measures might even prevent occasional headaches from becoming recurrent or chronic during adolescence.“ To achieve this goal, it is important that young people be informed about the factors that induce headaches and encouraged to adopt a healthy lifestyle. The LMU researchers now want to ask whether appropriately designed programs can indeed reduce the frequency of headache among members of their target group. (CA)


"Associations of Diet and Lifestyle with Headache in High-School Students"
Astrid Milde-Busch, Astrid Blaschek, Ingo Borggräfe, Florian Heinen, Andreas Straube, Rüdiger von Kries
Headache: The Journal of Head and Face Pain, 7 June 2010 (online);
DOI: 10.1111/j.1526-4610.2010.01706.x

Prof. Dr. Rüdiger von Kries
Institut für Soziale Pädiatrie und Jugendmedizin der LMU München
Phone: +49 (0) 89 / 71009-314

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