Children and teenagers may not seek help for headaches
One in five young teenagers suffer headaches at least once a week, say researchers.
Of 1,000 12-15 year olds in Exeter questioned for the study, 10% had more than two headaches a week.
That group had a poorer quality of life than children with asthma, diabetes or cancer, the British Journal of General Practice reported.
The researchers said many children were suffering unnecessarily with headaches at home and at school.
Study leader Dr David Kernick said headache was the most common type of pain in children but estimates on the prevalence of headache in teenagers and children vary widely.
Also there is little known about the impact of headache in children, he said.
The study participants - half boys and half girls - completed a questionnaire to find out not only how often they had headaches but also what effect that had on their quality of life.
For 20% of students, headaches affected their ability to function at home or school on more than 12 days in a three-month period.
Those worse affected struggled with their normal lives for 17 days over three months, the researchers found.
It means headache is more common than diseases that receive considerably more attention, such as diabetes and asthma, they said.
It is known that many adults who suffer headaches do not go to the GP and correct diagnosis and treatment is lacking.
This problem is likely to be even worse for children who may not be able to articulate how they feel.
Dr Kernick said GPs needed to do more to help children who suffer from headaches.
He said the underlying cause was complex and linked with factors such as anxiety and depression.
"The needs of many adult headache sufferers are unmet, and this study shows that in children the need is even more significant.
"Many children are suffering unnecessarily at home and at school.
"We need to do more to recognise and treat this problem, and the Royal College of GPs is working hard towards this."