Adolescent headaches

Preventing and treating headaches in adolescence

Cori Morgan, APRN

Cori Morgan, APRN

Written by Cori Morgan, APRN, nurse practitioner at UK Adolescent Medicine. This post is part of a series written by Dr. Hatim Omar and his team in Adolescent Medicine related to the unique health concerns faced by teens and young adults.

Although they can be concerning for both teens and parents, headaches during adolescence are a common part of growing up.

In fact, about 90 percent of adolescents experience a headache by the time they turn 18. Headaches may be sharp or dull; they may be associated with nausea or light sensitivity; and they may be located in the front, back or sides of the head.

Prevention and treatment

For teenagers and young adults, headaches have a wide array of triggers, many of which can be identified and corrected with simple lifestyle changes. Here are some tips to help you prevent headaches:

  • Drink at least eight glasses of water per day, more if you’re active.
  • Get a minimum of eight hours of sleep daily.
  • Exercise at least three days a week.
  • Limit screen time – including television, smartphone and computer – to two hours a day.
  • Eat a well-balanced diet that includes five to nine servings of fresh fruits and vegetables daily.
  • Limit junk food (fried and processed foods and sugary drinks) and don’t skip meals.
  • Limit the use of over-the-counter medications to two days per week and avoid aspirin.

If you do experience headaches, try these tips for treatment:

  • Identify factors that trigger headaches. Common triggers include bright lights, certain odors, smoke, oversleeping or lack of sleep, food, or temperature changes in the home or environment.
  • Keep a headache diary to help track the characteristics and patterns of your headaches. This can help you figure out what’s causing them.
  • If you are prescribed a medication, take it as directed.
  • Apply a cold compress to your head.
  • Sit in a cool, quiet and stress-free environment.

A sign of something more serious

Although most headaches are nothing to be worried about, some can be a sign of more serious health concerns. Talk to your parents about making a doctor’s appointment if you have:

  • Headaches that force you to miss school, cause a decline in academic performance or limit your participation in extracurricular activities.
  • Headaches that cause you to wake up from sleep or are more severe when you are lying down.
  • Headaches after a recent trauma or fall.
  • Neurological symptoms such as weakness, confusion or seizure activity that occur with headaches.
  • Persistent nausea and vomiting.
  • Sudden and severe onset of headaches.
  • Progressive headaches, or headaches that get worse over time.
  • Headaches that do not respond to treatment.
  • Headaches and a medical history that increases risk of severe health concerns, including sickle cell disease, immune deficiency, history of malignancy, bleeding disorders, cardiac disease or recent head trauma.

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Helping LGBTQ teens navigate adolescence

Dr. Mandakini Sadhir works at UK Adolescent Medicine

Dr. Mandakini Sadhir

Written by Dr. Mandakini Sadhir, a physician at UK Adolescent Medicine. This post is part of a series written by Dr. Hatim Omar and his team in Adolescent Medicine related to the unique health concerns faced by teens and young adults.

Adolescence is a time of physical, psychological and cognitive changes. It is an important phase for teens to discover who they really are, how they are perceived and how they fit into the environment they in which they live.

Sexual and gender identity development are two of the most important tasks young adults face during adolescence. For those who identify as gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgender or queer (LGBTQ), these tasks can be a tremendous challenge.

LGBTQ teens face unique challenges

LGBTQ teens often cope with feelings of being different and face dilemmas about revealing their identity, which can be at odds with family and social expectations.

They may encounter family rejection, face harassment, prejudice, discrimination and social isolation in schools as well as communities. According to a national survey, many of these teens face verbal and electronic aggression in school. These experiences at school and the potential lack of family and community support affect the overall psychological and physical well-being of LGBTQ youth.

In fact, LGBTQ teens are eight times more likely to attempt suicide than their peers. They are also three times more likely to engage in substance abuse, unprotected sexual intercourse and have multiple sexual partners leading to increased risk for sexually transmitted infections.

Additionally, transgender youth face unique challenges associated with the transition process including access to comprehensive health care and hormonal therapy.

How we can help

Research has shown that family acceptance and support promotes overall well-being and helps protect LGBTQ youth against risk taking behaviors. Our Adolescent Medicine Clinic at UK is committed to providing specialized and comprehensive care for LGBTQ youth in an inclusive and safe environment.

We also work with families to help them understand sexual and gender identity development and provide individual and family therapy.

Looking toward the future, our clinic is currently in the process of developing a multidisciplinary approach for providing a comprehensive health and hormonal therapy for transgender youth in the state of Kentucky.

To make an appointment with UK Adolescent Medicine, visit our website or call 800-333-8874.


Next steps:

  • Learn more about Transform Health, a University of Kentucky initiative working to improve LGBTQ patient care and provide safe clinical environments for LGBTQ individuals seeking care.
  • Read Dr. Omar’s introductory blog post about how UK Adolescent Medicine is helping improve health and well-being for teens and young adults across Kentucky.

Starting a conversation about adolescent health

Dr. Hatim Omar

Dr. Hatim Omar

Written by Dr. Hatim Omar, chief of the Division of Adolescent Medicine at UK HealthCare. This blog is the first in a series of posts by Dr. Omar and his team related to the unique health concerns faced by teens and young adults.

When I came to Lexington in 1998, I faced a tough assignment.

Tasked with starting UK HealthCare’s Adolescent Medicine program, I knew that teens in Kentucky were worse off than almost anywhere else in the country. High rates of obesity, suicide, pregnancy and drug use all plagued the Commonwealth’s adolescent population. Instead of seeing the statistics as an insurmountable challenge, I saw an opportunity.

My outlook from the start was that we could make a difference. I knew it wouldn’t take much to change Kentucky if we did things the right way.

That meant tackling adolescent health through three approaches – direct patient care, governmental advocacy and community outreach. I’m happy to say that we have been successful.

Our Adolescent Medicine Clinic now sees more than 10,000 patients each year, and in the nearly 17 years since the program started at UK HealthCare, adolescent health outcomes in Kentucky have improved across the board.

But as with most things, there’s always room for improvement. And that’s why I’m starting this blog about adolescent health and well-being.

One of the most important things we can do – as health care providers, parents, teachers, caregivers and peers – to successfully improve the health of teens and young adults is to facilitate honest and open conversations.

In the coming months, my team in Adolescent Medicine and I will author blog posts about the most pressing health concerns we see in our clinic every day. My hope is that this blog can enhance those conversations and bring the discussions about the unique health concerns faced by adolescents to a wider audience.

I encourage you to share this post with the young adults in your life as well as parents and caregivers who have teenagers.


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