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All About Migraine in Adolescents: Signs, Triggers, Treatment, and Prevention

All About Migraine in Adolescents: Signs, Triggers, Treatment, and Prevention

Teens don’t get a break from migraines just because of their age. They face adult-level pain that forces them to miss school, stops them from enjoying friends and activities, and often causes depression. 

Our THINK Neurology for Kids team — Shaun S. Varghese, MD, Cristina R. Marchesano, MD, Lorena Herbert, MD, Barbara Kiersz-Mueller, DO, Lauren Weaver, MD, Alicia Walls, MD, Sundeep Mandava, MD, Jennifer E. Martin, CPNP-PC, Tammy DeLaGarza, FNP-C, Robby Korah, FNP-C, Una Childers, PA-C, MPAS, and Heather King, CPNP-PC — is dedicated to helping adolescents overcome migraines and return to a thriving life without worrying when the next headache might begin.

We’re here to answer questions and provide personalized care for teens with migraines, but let’s begin by exploring the basics of adolescent migraines.

Defining migraines in teens

Migraines often appear for the first time in early adolescence. These painful headaches affect boys more often than girls before puberty, but by age 17, 23% of women and 8% of men struggle with migraines.

Unfortunately, migraines that begin in the teen years continue throughout adulthood, making it even more crucial to start treatment early.

At any age, migraines are one of the most painful headaches a person can experience, and for good reason: They’re more than a simple headache.

Migraines arise from neurological changes in the brain, releasing biochemicals that cause head pain and other symptoms. The pain typically occurs on one side of the head but can include both sides, causing a pounding, throbbing, or pulsating sensation.

Migraine headaches in teens last at least two hours (in adults, the pain lasts a minimum of four hours). Without treatment, their pain can last up to three days.

Adolescent migraines may appear without an apparent cause. But the pain more often begins when a trigger activates brain nerves. While triggers differ for each person, some of the most common include:

Cheese, chocolate, citrus fruits, processed meats, red and yellow food dyes, and monosodium glutamate (MSG) may also trigger migraines.

Classic migraine symptoms

Migraines may progress through stages. However, only some experience stages. Many teens find that their headache pain strikes without warning.

The possible stages include:

Warning phase

Teens may have a stiff neck, feel unusually tired, or go through mood changes in the days before their headache begins.


One in three teens experience changes in their vision and other sensations the hour before their migraine pain starts. These aura changes are warning signs that a migraine is coming soon. Symptoms include seeing flashing lights or squiggly lines, muscle numbness or weakness, and confusion.

Migraine attack

This is the only stage everyone experiences. Once a migraine begins, teens have the pain described above and other symptoms. Many find that the pain gets worse when they’re active. They may also experience:

Dizziness is the loss of balance and lightheadedness. Vertigo is the sensation that the room is spinning around.

Resolution and recovery

When the pain finally improves, teens usually sleep. They may feel tired, moody, or irritable for several hours or a few days before returning to their usual energetic self.

Treating and preventing adolescent migraines

We recommend over-the-counter or prescription medications at the first sign of a migraine attack. These medications ease the pain and help the headache improve faster.

Migraine prevention begins by following a healthy lifestyle, getting enough sleep, reducing stress, and identifying and avoiding triggers. Teens with severe or frequent migraines may need preventive medications that reduce the frequency and severity of future migraines.

Cognitive behavioral therapy often helps teens learn to cope with the stress, depression, or anxiety caused by unpredictable migraines.

If your teen has migraines or any severe or recurrent headache, don’t wait to seek help at THINK Neurology for Kids. Request an appointment online or call one of their offices in The Woodlands, Katy, Sugar Land, and Lakeway, Texas.

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