Attention in Children and Adolescents with Headache

Keywords: children; adolescent; headache; attention problems; migraine

Daria Riva MD*, Arianna Usilla PsyD, Federica Aggio MD, Chiara Vago PsyD, Chiara Treccani PsyD, Sara Bulgheroni PsyD

Objective.— The previous studies reporting consistent visual reaction times slowing in patients with migraine prompted us to verify if headache could be associated to a broader impairment of attention. This study aims to undertake a thorough investigation of attentional performance by extending the evaluation to children with primary headache of different types.

Methods.— We compared 62 children with headache (14 migraineurs with aura, 29 without aura and 19 with tension type headache) and 52 controls without headache, matched for age, sex, and intelligence using Conners’ Continuous Performance Test.

Results.— The 3 clinical groups did not differ in attentional measures. The headache patients, collapsed in 1 single sample, had mean scores in Hit Reaction Time significantly different from those of controls and also had a higher percentage of atypical scores in 2 indices of the Conners’ Continuous Performance Test (faster mean reaction time and more commissions).

Conclusions.Our results confirm the presence of an association between attentional problems and headache that may impact academic learning and daily activities on the long term. The finding that the 3 clinical groups did not show significant differences in attentional performance supports the hypothesis that migraine and tension headache form a continuum that may share the same pathophysiological mechanisms. These results are discussed considering that neurotransmitters and the cerebral circuits subserving headache, personality profile, and attention could overlap, thus predisposing these children to even mild attention malfunctioning. Article first published online: 15 NOV 2011 American Headache Society.

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