Electronic screens and young adults seem increasingly inseparable these days, but a new study warned that too much time in front of such screens can lead to an increase in headaches and migraine in the young adult population.
“Previous studies have observed associations between screen time exposure and headaches” in 10- to 12-year-olds (Prev Med. 2014 Oct;67:128-33) and adolescents (BMC Public Health. 2010 Jun 9;10:324) and low-back and shoulder pain in adolescents (Eur J Public Health. 2006 Oct;16:536-41), wrote investigators led by Ilaria Montagni, Ph.D., of the University of Bordeaux (France). “This had led to speculation that the high amount of screen time exposure among students of higher education institutions may be correlated with the high prevalence of headache and migraine observed in this population.”
Dr. Montagni and her coinvestigators enrolled 4,927 individuals in France, all of whom were aged 18 years and older and part of the Internet-based Students Health Research Enterprise (i-Share) project cohort, which is an ongoing, prospective, population-based cohort study of students at French-speaking universities and higher-education institutions. The mean age of the students involved was 20.8 years, and 75.5% were female (Cephalalgia. 2015 Dec 2. doi: 10.1177/0333102415620286).
Subjects completed self-reported surveys on the average amount of time they spend in front of screens during five activities: computer or tablet work, playing video games on a computer/tablet, Internet surfing on a computer/tablet, watching videos on a computer/tablet, and using a smartphone. All questions were scored using a 0-5 point scale: 0 for never, 1 for less than 30 minutes, 2 for 30 minutes to 2 hours, 3 for 4-8 hours, and 5 for any time of 8 hours or more. Scores from the surveys were divided into quartiles of very low, low, high, and very high screen-time exposure.
Surveys also asked if they had experienced any headaches in the last 12 months that lasted several hours; those who answered negatively were classified as “no headache” while those who answered positively were asked a series of follow-up questions related to symptom type and severity, sensitivity to light or sound, nausea, vomiting, and if the headaches ever disrupted daily routines, among other things. To establish a classification of migraine, the investigators used the “probable migraine” category of the International Classification of Headache Disorders, third edition. From these data, multinomial logistic regression models were used to calculate odds ratios of any relationship between screen-time exposure and the presence and severity of headaches.
Of the 4,927 subjects, 2,773 (56.3%) reported no headaches; however, 710 (14.4%) reported a nonmigraine headache, 791 (16.1%) reported migraine without aura, and 653 (13.3%) reported migraine with aura. In comparisons against very low screen-time exposure, very high exposure increased the likelihood of experiencing migraine by 37%, rising to a statistically significant 50% greater odds for migraine without aura but not for migraine with aura.
“Students reporting very high screen time exposure were more likely to be male, to be older, to have higher BMI, and to consume cannabis [and] were also more likely to report non-migraine headache or migraine,” the authors noted. Furthermore, higher exposure to screens was a significant indicator of recurrent headaches in adolescent males, and the same indicator was seen in adolescent females who spent more time on the computer and in front of the TV.
The study was funded by a grant of the “Future Investments” program in the framework of the IdEx University of Bordeaux program. The i-Share project is supported by the French National Research Agency. The authors did not report any relevant financial disclosures.