Behavioral treatment of migraine in children and adolescents

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24 Scopus citations


Behavioral interventions, particularly biofeedback and relaxation therapy, have demonstrated their effectiveness in the treatment of both adults and older children with migraine in controlled trials. The physiological basis for their effectiveness is unclear, but data from one trial suggest that levels of plasma β-endorphin can be altered by relaxation and biofeedback therapies. The data supporting the effectiveness of behavioral therapies are less clear-cut in children than in adults, but that is also true for the data supporting medical treatment. This is due in part to methodological issues, especially the lack of a specific test for migraine, which has hampered research and helped lead to an inappropriate de-emphasis on care for childhood headache. In addition, migraine headaches in children are often briefer and have a higher rate of spontaneous remission than those experienced by adults, making it difficult to separate effective from ineffective treatments. While it is widely believed that stress is a major factor in childhood migraine, well-designed studies have had difficulty developing data to support this viewpoint. Many clinicians utilize 'confident reassurance', reassuring the family that the child is not seriously ill, in the belief that having migraine headaches can be stressful. They also modify behaviors that are believed to trigger migraine headaches, such as poor sleep habits or irregular meal times. Relaxation therapies use techniques such as progressive relaxation, self-hypnosis, and guided imagery. Several studies have found relaxation therapies to be as effective, or more effective, in reducing the frequency of migraine headaches than modest doses of a β-blockade medication, although one study found relaxation therapy to be no more effective than a control program. Several studies have demonstrated that these therapies can be taught to children in a low cost but effective manner. Biofeedback therapies commonly use an apparatus to demonstrate a physiological effect. Most commonly in pediatrics, children are taught to raise the temperature of one of their fingers. This can be done with or without a thermometer. Several groups have shown that these techniques can be taught to children and that their use is associated with fewer and briefer migraine headaches. People who experience migraines can also experience episodic headaches throughout life. An important consideration is preparing children to deal with future headaches, allowing them to feel in control of their health. Behavioral therapies have the potential to do this, giving the child access to a technique that can be easily resumed without a medical visit or prescription.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)555-561
Number of pages7
JournalPaediatric Drugs
Issue number9
StatePublished - 2002

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Pediatrics, Perinatology, and Child Health
  • Pharmacology (medical)


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