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Study Links Migraine Headaches to Reduced Academic Performance

By Maralee Csellar

High school students who get migrane headaches earn lower grades, are less likely to graduate, and are less likely to go to college.

High school students who get migrane headaches earn lower grades, are less likely to graduate, and are less likely to go to college.

Adolescents suffering from migraine headaches are more likely to get lower grades and less likely to graduate from high school or attend college than their migraine-free peers.  Those are the findings of a new study by Joseph Sabia, professor of public policy at American University's School of Public Affairs, and Daniel Rees, economics professor at University of Colorado Denver.

The results were presented July 1 at the 84th Annual Conference of the Western Economic Association International in Vancouver, British Columbia. It is the first study to examine the effect of suffering from migraine headaches as an adolescent on future academic achievement.   

“We know that migraine headaches can profoundly impact quality of life. Our study offers evidence that they are an important obstacle to long-term academic success,” said Sabia, whose research focuses on health economics. “Our results show that migraine sufferers have trouble attending school and have trouble concentrating on the days they do make it to school.”

Sabia and Rees analyzed data on sibling pairs from the National Longitudinal Study of Adolescent Health. Parental reports identified siblings raised in the same household with different migraine experiences.

“By focusing on differences between siblings, we can rule out the possibility that family- level factors such as socioeconomic status are driving the relationship between migraine headache and academic performance,” said Rees.

The authors discovered that suffering from migraine headaches was associated with a 5 percent reduction in high school GPA, a 5 percent reduction in the likelihood of graduating from high school, and a 15 percent reduction in the likelihood of attending college.

Thirty to 40 percent of these reductions could be explained by excused absences from school, difficulty paying attention in class, and difficulty completing homework. Non-migraine headaches were not associated with reductions in academic performance.

Sabia and Rees examined the migraine experiences and high school grades of 214 siblings from 105 families. Information on high school completion and college attendance data was obtained from 280 siblings belonging to 137 families.