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Migraine Prevalent Among Teen Girls; Many Misuse OTC Drugs

Migraine headaches are surprisingly common among teenage girls, yet many have limited knowledge of the disorder and frequently misuse over-the-counter medications that can worsen their symptoms, a noted headache researcher says.

Dr. Mitra Assadi, director of the Headache Center at Capital Health’s Capital Institute for Neurosciences, is calling for health education messages aimed at teenage girls to include information about migraines, including signs, symptoms and potential treatments.

“Empowering girls with basic information regarding migraine could have a powerful impact on their medical care and their quality of life,” Dr. Assadi said. “Too many teen girls are suffering needlessly because they are not getting properly diagnosed and treated.”

Dr. Assadi’s research on migraines includes a recent study published in the Journal of Pediatric Neurology that recruited 309 girls aged 14-18. Eighteen percent of the girls were found to have definite migraine, based on the International Headache Classification. Twenty-five percent had probable migraine. Another 45 percent had non-migraine headaches.

The teen girls in the study also had poor knowledge about the symptoms, triggers, treatments and auras associated with migraine.

For instance, just 57 percent of girls with definite migraine correctly identified their headaches as migraine, while only 28 percent of those with probable migraines considered themselves to have migraines. The research determined that the teenagers’ knowledge was “substantially” limited in regards to migraine auras and “moderately” limited in terms of symptoms, triggers and treatment.

The study also found that many teens overused over-the-counter (OTC) medications, such as aspirin, acetaminophen, naproxen and ibuprofen. “What we know from existing literature is that overuse of these medications can lead to rebound headaches, and may produce renal and liver damage,” Dr. Assadi said.

She said physicians sometimes dismiss migraines among girls, and even family members may not fully recognize the suffering caused by migraines. Moreover, both patients and families may be unaware of treatments, which include pharmacological and holistic interventions. Migraine remains a frequent cause of school absenteeism.

Patients who exhibit two of the following four symptoms may be diagnosed with migraine:

• Pain on one side of the head.
• Pain that is throbbing.
• Pain that increases with exertion.
• Pain that is moderate to severe.

Girls with migraine may also have sensitivity to light and sound, nausea and vomiting plus visual or speech changes, which signify migraine auras.

To schedule an appointment with Dr. Assadi, call 609-537-7300.

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