Migraines in Children

Migraine headaches are among the most common acute and recurrent headaches experienced by kids. They often cause a variety of symptoms, including nausea, abdominal pain and vomiting. Some kids also experience vision changes or other sensory changes during migraine attacks.

Dr. Jonathan Cabin of The Migraine Institute is a board-certified head and neck surgeon with dual-subspecialty training in facial plastic and reconstructive surgery. Dr. Cabin’s unique expertise enables him to help chronic migraine patients – regardless of age – determine the best way to achieve long-lasting migraine pain relief.

Are Migraines in Children Common?

Recent research indicates approximately 10% of all kids suffer from migraines. Studies also show roughly half of these migraine sufferers experience their first migraine attack before the age of 12.

Additionally, boys tend to experience migraines more often than girls. However, during adolescence, the incidence of migraines increases more rapidly in girls than in boys. By the age of 17, approximately 8% of boys and 23% of girls have experienced a migraine attack.

Are Children Susceptible to Chronic Migraines?

Kids are susceptible to chronic migraines, i.e. migraine headaches that occur at least 15 days per month for at least three months. Chronic migraines often make it difficult for kids to concentrate. They may also cause fatigue, anxiety, depression, dizziness and other symptoms.

How Do Migraines Affect a Child’s Quality of Life?

Migraine pain affects a child’s quality of life in several areas, including:

  • School: Migraines may make it virtually impossible to pay attention, leading to poor or failing grades.
  • Friends: Migraine attacks can make it tough for kids to engage in social activities with friends.
  • Home: Children dealing with migraine attacks may be more prone to irritability than others. They may also isolate from family members and friends due to migraine pain.

What Causes Migraines in Children?

There are many reasons why children experience migraine attacks, including:

  • Insomnia: Children who fail to get a good night’s rest may be more prone than others to migraine attacks.
  • Too Much Sleep: Kids who sleep for more than 12 hours a day may be susceptible to migraines.
  • Diet: Consuming excess amounts of foods that contain glutamate (MSG), nitrates and sweeteners may increase a child’s risk of experiencing migraines.
  • Dehydration: Kids who fail to stay hydrated throughout the day may experience migraine attacks.
  • Stress: Concerns about school tests, teasing, and other stressors increase the likelihood of migraine attacks in children.

Other causes of migraines in children include:

  • Illness and infection
  • Head trauma
  • Anxiety
  • Genetics
  • Brain tumor or bleeding in the brain

There is no telling when a child may experience a migraine. If parents can identify migraine symptoms, they can help their children manage migraine pain.

How Are Migraines in Children Diagnosed?

A doctor can provide a migraine diagnosis. If a parent believes his or her child is dealing with migraine headaches, meeting with a doctor offers a great first step to address these issues.

Generally, a doctor evaluates a child and his or her migraine symptoms. He or she may perform a physical examination, along with laboratory and imaging studies. A doctor may then recommend migraine medications or alternative migraine treatments.

How Long Will a Child’s Migraine Last?

A migraine attack may last anywhere from two hours to three days. It may also occur with or without notice and cause a variety of physical symptoms, including nausea, dizziness and abdominal pain.

What Types of Migraines Can Children Experience?

Children may experience several different types of migraines, including:

  • Migraine with Aura: Causes throbbing pain that may affect one or both sides of the head. A migraine with aura is often preceded by visual disturbances.
  • Migraine Without Aura: Causes pulsating head pain, but without visual disturbances. Common migraine without aura symptoms include irritability and stomach pain.
  • Status Migrainosus: Refers to a severe migraine attack that usually lasts about three days.

Are Migraines in Children Preventable?

Preventative medications are sometimes used to treat children’s migraine symptoms. Yet these medications offer no guarantees, and in some instances, may cause unwanted side effects.

To prevent migraines in children, it is paramount to work with a doctor. This ensures a child can safely treat his or her migraine pain and explore a wide range of treatment options.

Alternative Treatments for Migraines in Children

In addition to medication, doctors sometimes recommend one or more of the following treatments for migraines in kids:

  • Biofeedback: Special sensors may be attached to a child’s body to track his or her response to headaches. The sensors monitor a child’s changes in breathing, pulse, heart rate and other vital signs. They enable a doctor to see how a child responds to stressors and explore ways to help a child alleviate tension that leads to migraines.
  • Massage: A massage may be used to help relieve muscle tension that contributes to a child’s headaches.
  • Stress Management: Encouraging a child to share details about his or her stressors may lead to effective stress management.

The ideal migraine treatment for kids varies based on the child, his or her migraine symptoms and other factors. With a personalized migraine treatment, a child can get the help that he or she needs to achieve long-lasting migraine pain relief.

Can Children Outgrow Migraine Headaches?

A child’s headache symptoms may decrease in terms of severity and frequency over time. Or, they may disappear on their own but occur once again at a later time. Additionally, girls may be more susceptible to recurring migraines due to hormone changes.

How Can Parents Help Their Kids Manage Migraine Pain?

Parents play key roles in a child’s ability to overcome migraine pain. In fact, there are many ways that parents can help their kids manage migraine pain, such as:

  • Ensure a child is diagnosed and treated. There is no need to leave anything to chance, especially when it comes to a child’s health and well-being. If a parent believes his or her child may be dealing with migraines, it is important to go to a doctor immediately. At this point, a doctor may provide acute, preemptive or preventative medications to help a child alleviate his or her migraine pain.
  • Keep a child on a regular migraine medications schedule. Parents can set up reminders to ensure a child sticks to a consistent migraine medications schedule. With this schedule in place, a child won’t have to worry about forgetting to take his or her migraine medications.
  • Promote a healthy lifestyle. Sometimes, a child’s migraine symptoms may worsen due to a lack of sleep or unhealthy eating habits. Yet a parent who promotes a healthy lifestyle may be able to help his or her child avoid migraine pain.
  • Limit a child’s stress. Relaxation, biofeedback and other stress management tools can make a world of difference, especially if a child suffers from migraines. Parents can use these stress management tools to help their children relax, and as a result, lower their risk of migraines.
  • Maintain a migraine diary. Encourage a child to keep a migraine log. That way, a child can determine if his or her migraine medications are delivering the optimal results.

If a child has received a chronic migraine diagnosis from a neurologist but still finds his or her migraine medications are ineffective or cause intolerable side effects, Dr. Cabin can help. In this instance, Dr. Cabin can meet with a child to evaluate his or her migraine triggers and offer a personalized treatment recommendation.

Schedule a Migraine Treatment Consultation with Dr. Cabin Today

Dr. Cabin is happy to help patients young and old determine the best way to address migraines. To set up a consultation with Dr. Cabin, please contact the Migraine Institute today at 310.461.0303.