Understanding & Treating Migraines in Children

The word “migraine” comes from the Greek “hemikranion,” because this type of headache usually makes just one side of the front of the head hurt.

Although many think of migraines as “adult” headaches, they are fairly common in children.

Migraines are headaches characterized by throbbing or pounding pain.

In adolescents or adults, this usually occurs in the front or on one side of the head.

Younger children with migraines often complain of pain in both sides of the front of the head.

Other symptoms of migraines include nausea, vomiting, abdominal pain, loss of appetite, sound sensitivity, light sensitivity, irritability and paleness.

Exercise often makes the headache worse (unlike tension headaches).

The headache can last from a few hours to longer than a full day.

Up to 30% of migraines are preceded by an aura – a kind of sensory disturbance.

This usually occurs up to 30 minutes before a migraine as a type of warning sign.

Auras can consist of blurred or distorted vision; blind spots; flashing or moving lights or zigzag lines that are often brightly-colored; speech disturbances; motor weakness; or other sensory disturbances.

These are called classic migraines. Those without auras, which account for up to 70% of occurrences, are called common migraines.

It is now thought that migraines are caused by a malfunction of the brain and blood vessels, triggered at least in part by a change in the circulating chemicals in the brain.

Migraines tend to run in families.

About 70% of children with migraines have a close relative affected by them as well.

Around 2% of children have migraines by age 7. By age 15, the percentage raises to 7%-10%.

They are more common in boys until puberty, and then they become more common in girls.

Migraines are often triggered by stress, lack of sleep, menstruation, periods, caffeine, certain foods, skipping meals, flashing lights, alcohol, medications and even the weather.

Avoiding these triggers when possible is often a large part of prevention.

Medications can be used to stop migraines.

These include painkillers, anti-nausea medicines and sedatives (since sleep helps them go away).

A number of medications are used to prevent migraines if they occur frequently.

When I was a boy, I remember watching my father suffering a migraine.

He would lie down flat in the dark and place a washcloth over his eyes.

We had to be very quiet and leave him alone.

As an adult, I have the dubious honor of experiencing migraines myself.

Fortunately, migraines in children can be treated and sometimes even prevented.