Migraine University provides resources for young people living with migraine disease and headache disorders while trying to navigate their college experience. Would you like us to come and visit your university? Send an email to [email protected]
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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. College students are no different. In fact, these young and seemingly healthy individuals often lead lifestyles that put them at high risk for headache disorders.
Many college students will experience a tension-type headache during their time on campus. A tension-type headache causes non-throbbing, frequently bilateral pain. The underlying cause of a tension-type headache is likely due to chemical and neuronal imbalances in the brain and may be related to muscle tightening in the back of the neck and/or scalp. It is no surprise that tension-type headache occurs so frequently in the college population. Students spend much of their time in straining positions, whether it be sitting in uncomfortable lecture hall seats or hunching over tables trying to catch up on reading assignments.
Moreover, college students are no strangers to the other common triggers of tension-type headache, including temporary stress, fatigue, and anxiety. From cramming for finals to worrying over grad school applications, from late-night parties to early morning hangovers, from straining to read endless pages of small-print textbooks to staring at a computer screen for hours a time, college students need to know how to avoid triggers that can easily occur as a result of their lifestyle.
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:
- Studying for long periods of time can cause eyestrain. Take frequent breaks to give your eyes a rest!
- 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.
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.
- Modified homework assignments may be necessary as productivity can be greatly reduced during an attack. Ask for extended time for assignments.
- 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.
- 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.
- Access to a social worker when indicated. Anxiety and depression are comorbid conditions.
- Testing time should not exceed 2 hours (or as tolerated).
- Testing in a small quiet distraction-free environment.
- Breaks as needed, and not counted as part of testing time.
- Access to a calculator for all math and science requiring calculations.
- No Scantron tests, write answers in a test booklet.
- Teacher or peer notes and study guides.
- Ability to take tests orally when needed.
- Ability to dictate written assignments.
- Hydration, ability to keep a water bottle at all times.
- Bathroom breaks as necessary due to encouraged hydration
- Absences: encourage school attendance. However, late arrivals, absences, and leaving early from school due to headache/migraine disease should be excused.
Share Your Story
More than 40 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. Click here to sign up for studies in your area.
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