According to a recent study, the Covid-19 epidemic had a significant influence on children’s mental health, as many paediatric patients who experienced headaches during the pandemic reported more frequent pain and greater anxiety.
The findings, published in the Journal of Child Neurology, demonstrated that elevated stress caused by disruptions in daily life, social distancing practises, and anxiety about the threat of illness to oneself and others caused by the pandemic impacted the quality of life for children with headache disorders.
“These findings are really impactful to me as a physician and a parent. It is important we gain a better understanding about how stress and changes in routine affect children’s wellbeing and mood,” says lead author Marc DiSabella, D.O., director of the Headache Program at Children’s National Hospital. “Things like moving to a virtual environment may have resulted in feelings of isolation and anxiety for kids, and increased screen time may have played a role in more frequent headaches.”
Migraine and other headache diseases are quite frequent in children and teenagers. From summer 2020 to winter 2021, 107 patients completed a questionnaire assessing changes in headache features and lifestyle variables from the onset of the epidemic. The survey discovered:
– Pre-pandemic, 60% of patients reported having headaches less than 15 days of the month. After the start of the pandemic, that number dropped to 50%.
– Patients reporting constant daily headaches went from 22% pre-pandemic to 36% after the start of the pandemic.
– 49% of patients reported their headaches had worsened since the onset of the pandemic.
– 54% of patients reported that their physical activity levels decreased because of the pandemic.
– When asked about screen use during the pandemic, 61% of patients reported using screens for more than six hours a day.
The authors of the study note that whether or not increased screen time worsens headaches has not yet been clearly established; however, patients and families routinely cite screen use as a headache trigger. Lack of physical exercise is also often cited as a migraine trigger.
“Having a headache every day, all the time, with no break in site, is really frustrating to children and their parents,” Dr. DiSabella adds. “They just want to be a normal child yet have no control over when the pain increases, and they suddenly are unable to do simple activities like reading a book or seeing friends, which adds to the uncertainty of their future.”
Participants also reported worsened anxiety, mood and workload. According to the authors, this is likely to affect headache patients given their elevated rates of anxiety and depression.
“We already know that patients with headache disorders have disproportionately high rates of mood complaints, including anxious and depressive symptoms,” Dr. DiSabella says. “The fact that our patients reported this worsened during quarantine is an additional stress on their already complex lives, managing pain, school and extra-curricular activities.”
While the study’s sample size and observational methodology have limitations, future population-based research will shed more light on the impact of this epidemic on children who suffer from headaches. In the meanwhile, Dr. DiSabella suggests that parents discuss with their children how the epidemic has affected their headaches and mood. He also suggests providing assistance to youngsters, either at home or through a professional educated in child psychology.