Migraine Headaches in Children


What is a migraine headache?

A migraine is a severe and disabling headache lasting for hours or days with nausea, vomiting, sensitivity to light, sensitivity to sound, and/or dizziness.
Migraine headaches occur when there are changes in some of the nerves and blood vessels of the brain. For girls, migraines may start at about the age of 7 and for boys, 10 years of age.

What causes migraines?

The exact causes of migraines are unknown. Your child’s doctor will ask if other family members- have a history of frequent headaches. A physical exam and a history of your child’s headaches are very important in planning your child’s treatment.
Certain triggers can start migraines in children such as:

  • Certain foods or drinks.
  • Fatigue
  • Sleep disturbances
  • Weather changes
  • Excessive screen time such as TV and electronic devices
  • Not drinking enough water during the day

Even though it is mostly hereditary, the severity and frequency of migraine attacks can be very different between affected family members. One family member may suffer from very severe daily migraines while another may have very rare migraine attacks

What are the symptoms?

For some children, a migraine headache may start with a warning signal (known as an “aura”) a few minutes before the pain begins. These warning signals may include:

  • Tingling or numbness in the arms or legs.
  • Unusual smell
  • Seeing spots, flashing lights, colors or jagged lines

In children, migraine attacks can be as short as one hour and often involve both sides of the head. Young children may experience a form of migraine that expresses itself as regular episodes of vomiting or abdominal pain without any other sign of illness and often with headache. Later in childhood, the migraine headache attacks become obvious.

How is it diagnosed?

Diagnosing migraines is mostly based on the description of the symptoms. No laboratory or imaging tests are needed to identify the condition. Sometimes, the doctor may order a CT scan or MRI of the brain, to find out the problems that might cause a child’s migraines. The doctor will ask about:

  • The severity of headaches,
  • How often and how long your child’s headaches last• Other symptoms your child experiences
  • Any medicine that your child takes.

Before meeting with a headache specialist, keeping a record of all headaches can provide helpful information for the diagnosis and treatment. Information to record includes:

  • Location and severity of the headaches
  • How long the pain lasts
  • Possible triggers and other related symptoms such as sensitivity to light and sound.

How is it treated?

To relieve headache pain, the doctor may give your child a pain relief medicine such as Ibuprofen or prescribe medicines that help with nausea and vomiting such metoclopramide.
If possible, your child should lie down or go to sleep until the headache is gone.

How is it prevented?

The best way to prevent migraines is to learn what triggers the headaches then try to avoid these triggers

  • Ensure that your child gets enough sleep every night.
  • Avoid excessive screen time (TV, computer, tablets, etc)
  • Encourage your child to be physically active.
  • Chang your child eating habits
  • Avoid certain stressors that trigger your child’s migraines

Remember: some children need preventive medicines that are taken daily to reduce the severity and occurrence of the headaches.