Causes of Headache Disorders in College Students

Many people experience headache disorders, often due to triggers related to their age, gender, health, and overall lifestyle. Students are no different. In fact, these young and seemingly healthy individuals often lead lifestyles that put them at high risk for headache disorders. That is why the National Headache Foundation (NHF) developed Migraine University. Migraine University is a program aimed at helping students navigate their headache journey while balancing school. 

We invite you to explore the resources on this page and read about other students who have had to balance their school life with their own headache and migraine disorders. 

The National Headache Foundation (NHF) has prepared a list of tips for the collegians out there to make it through the best four (or more) years of their life with fewer headache occurrences.

Taking these precautions may help avoid headache disorders:

  • Take frequent breaks to give your eyes a rest. Studying for long periods of time can cause eyestrain. 
  • Invest in an ergonomic chair. Uncomfortable seating can cause neck and back pain that may lead to tension-type headaches.
  • When it comes to alcohol, always drink in moderation, and with plenty of water in between drinks, to avoid hangover headaches in the morning. If hangovers do occur, treat with hydration and foods high in fructose (tomato juice, honey).
  • If you are trying to stay awake to study, drink coffee only in moderation. Caffeine withdrawal can be a common trigger for avid coffee drinkers.
  • Though college students don’t always operate on a regular schedule, try not to vary your meal and sleep schedules too much. Irregular sleep cycles and missing or delaying meals can both trigger migraine attacks.
  • Practice relaxation and biofeedback techniques to help relieve the daily stress and anxiety of college life.

Check out our HeadWise Podcast for more helpful Information:

Preparing for College

  • Visit your primary care physician before leaving for school
  • Schedule doctor’s visits during holiday breaks while at home
  • Select a doctor or healthcare facility you can visit at school (College health centers have limited hours and may not be able to properly treat your condition)
  • Arrange to have medications mailed to you or set-up auto refills at a pharmacy near campus
  • Have digital medical records and insurance cards available
  • Create an emergency plan – inform a roommate or friend of how they can help you in an emergency situation
  • Have an emergency contact list

College Accommodations

Ask your school if they provide accommodations for students living with migraine disease and headache disorders. Most schools have an office dedicated to serving students with disabilities. Check if your school has an Office of Student Accommodations or Office of Educational Accessibility. If they don’t provide accommodations, present them with a suggested list of accommodations for migraine disease and headache disorders. Students with migraine disease and headache disorders deserve the same opportunities to benefit from a college education.

Suggested accommodations from a student for students


  1. Modified homework assignments may be necessary as productivity can be greatly reduced during an attack. Ask for extended time for assignments.
  2.  Extended time for tests is medically necessary as processing speed is slowed by the cognitive dysfunction that occurs as part of migraine, chronic pain, and multiple medications.
  3.  At the onset or worsening of headache/migraine attack, allow the student to take his/her acute medications and rest in a safe and quiet area.
  4.  Access to a social worker when indicated. Anxiety and depression are comorbid conditions.
  5.  Testing time should not exceed 2 hours (or as tolerated).
  6.  Testing in a small quiet distraction-free environment.
  7.  Breaks as needed, and not counted as part of testing time.
  8.  Access to a calculator for all math and science requiring calculations.
  9.  No Scantron tests, write answers in a test booklet.
  10.  Teacher or peer notes and study guides.
  11.  Ability to take tests orally when needed.
  12.  Ability to dictate written assignments.
  13.  Hydration, ability to keep a water bottle at all times.
  14.  Bathroom breaks as necessary due to encouraged hydration
  15.  Absences: encourage school attendance. However, late arrivals, absences, and leaving early from school due to headache/migraine disease should be excused.

Migraine University is visiting health and wellness fairs at college campuses to help raise awareness and share resources with students living with migraine and headache disorders.

Campuses that have already participated include:

  • University of Alabama
  • Ball State University
  • Clemson University
  • Coastal Carolina University
  • Columbia College, Chicago
  • East Carolina University
  • Liberty University
  • Loyola University-Chicago
  • North Carolina State University
  • Northeastern Illinois University
  • Penn State University
  • Purdue University – Northwest
  • Temple University
  • University of Chicago
  • University of Houston
  • University of Illinois – Urbana Champaign
  • University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill
  • University of Pennsylvania
  • University of South Florida – Tampa
  • University of Texas at Austin
  • Western Michigan University

Share Your Story

More than 42 million people in the United States live with migraine disease and a half million are diagnosed with Cluster Headache. Yet those who have these diseases often feel isolated and alone. We want to raise awareness by sharing stories to show that if you have migraine disease or another headache disorder, you are not alone.


Consider starting a club on campus for students living with migraine disease and headache disorders. Participate in a research study focused on migraine therapies.

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