Too much time in front of electronic screens can increase the risk of headaches and migraine in young adults, according to research published online ahead of print December 2, 2015, in Cephalalgia.
Previous studies have observed associations between screen time exposure and headaches in children between ages 10 and 12 and adolescents. Data also have found an association between screen time exposure and low-back and shoulder pain in adolescents. “This [information] 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,” said Ilaria Montagni, PhD, a research fellow at the University of Bordeaux in Talence, France.
Dr. Montagni and her coinvestigators studied 4,927 individuals in France, all of whom were age 18 or older and part of the Internet-based Students Health Research Enterprise (i-Share) project cohort, which is an ongoing, prospective, population-based study of students at French-speaking universities and institutions of higher education. The mean age of the students was 20.8, and 75.5% were female.
Subjects completed self-reported surveys on the average amount of time they spend in front of screens during the following five activities: computer or tablet work, playing video games on a computer or tablet, Internet surfing on a computer or tablet, watching videos on a computer or tablet, and using a smartphone. All questions were scored using a five-point scale. A score of 0 indicated never, 1 indicated less than 30 minutes, 2 indicated 30 minutes to two hours, 3 indicated four to eight hours, and 5 indicated eight 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 participants had experienced any headaches that had lasted several hours in the previous 12 months. Participants 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 disruption of daily routines. To establish a classification of migraine, the investigators used the “probable migraine” category of the International Classification of Headache Disorders, third edition. With these data, the investigators used multinomial logistic regression models to calculate odds ratios of any relationship between screen time exposure and the presence and severity of headaches.
Of the 4,927 participants, 2,773 (56.3%) reported no headaches. In all, 710 (14.4%) participants 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 having migraine by 37%, which resulted in 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 nonmigraine 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.