What is a migraine? Why migraine happens. Who gets migraines? Treating migraines.

Biofeedback for Teen Migraine Sufferers

Treating Teens as Adults Doesn't Necessarily Help

While many adults want to treat teens in an adult fashion, the fact of the matter remains that teens are different from adults. Their migraine headaches are different as well. They tend to have headaches of shorter duration, although the pain can be debilitating. The fact that the headaches are shorter in duration has made it difficult in the past to prove the efficacy of certain drugs in the treatment of migraines in teens. What we do know at present is that drugs prescribed for adults to treat migraines do work for teens as well. However, there is a sense that it would be much better to help teens deal with their headaches without drugs, lessening the chance for drug dependence and increasing their own sense of control over their lives.

Triptans, such as Amerge, Imitrex, Maxalt, and Zomig have all been proven to be effective aids in the treatment of migraine pain in adults. These same drugs, when given to teens, can disable a teenager for a longer period of time than the actual headache would. The pain is gone, but the quality of life is reduced considerably as well.

A Biofeedback Project

In her project at Ohio University, Athens and Columbus, study leader Constance K. Cottrell, PhD, developed a home-based behavioral therapy program that teaches teens to use a biofeedback machine along with relaxation techniques. The study group was split in two, 15 teens using drugs and 15 using biofeedback therapy. Cottrell found that the teens using the drugs experienced a lot of pain relief quickly and they were able to resume normal tasks. Interestingly, the 15 teens using biofeedback therapy did just as well. They had a marked reduction in the number of headaches experienced each month and the degree of their severity. They too, were able to resume tasks quickly and had a significantly improved quality of life.

Teaching Teens to Recognize Their Triggers...

"The behavior program taught them to identify their migraine triggers, how to avoid them, how to manage pain when they had it, how to take medications effectively, and how to think differently about headaches so they could manage them better," Cottrell says.

...And Deal With Them Without Drugs

One of the elements of the program is a biofeedback machine that uses a small thermometer which attaches to the person's finger. By increasing the temperature in the finger, blood vessels in the head relax and headache pain lessens. Relaxation techniques and stress management are also part of the program. By gathering information and then debriefing the information with a psychologist over the phone, the teens were able to confront some of the causes of their headaches. It was good for them to be able to talk to someone who took their pain seriously - something they didn't feel their parents did especially well.

Biofeedback is not new in the treatment of and control of migraines and is targeted at helping individuals identify their triggers and what puts them at risk. By controlling response to stressors, the results are often as good as any drug treatment.