A migraine is a debilitating headache that can knock a person down and ruin their day or even their week. Although most people associate migraines with adults, migraines can affect children and teenagers as well. Developing an effective treatment plan early on can help improve the quality of life for a child with migraines and prevent these headaches from continuing into adulthood.
This article discusses the causes, symptoms, and treatments for pediatric migraines and how to prevent them.
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What are pediatric migraines?
Migraines are usually viewed as moderate to severe headaches that last two to 48 hours and occur two to four times a month. Pediatric migraines are migraine headaches that occur in people under the age of 18. People of all ages, even infants, can get migraines, but they are more common as children get older.
About 3% of the preschool age children, 4% – 11% of the primary school age children and 8% – 15% of the adolescents in high school suffer from migraines.
Migraines are primary headaches (that are not caused by any other medical condition) that are more common in boys before puberty and girls after puberty.
Pediatric migraines can be treated with medication and lifestyle changes, but many children with pediatric migraines will experience them as adults as well.
Because migraines can have a variety of symptoms in addition to headaches, especially stomach problems, it can be difficult to diagnose, especially in younger children.
Healthcare professionals divide pediatric migraines into two classes. They are:
- Mild pediatric migraines: Takes an hour or two and is made easier by staying in a calm, calm setting
- Moderate to severe pediatric migraines: Lasts two to six hours, often requires treatment and causes a child to skip normal activities
Causes of Migraines in Children
Health professionals believe that migraines are rooted in the neurological system and occur in the brain and nerves and blood vessels.
The exact causes of migraines are still being researched. However, researchers believe that migraines occur when a person’s pain networks in the head are activated or triggered. Triggers are stress, skipping meals, too much or too little sleep, or changes in the weather.
Once activated, these networks cause blood vessels in the brain to become inflamed. This can lead to pain and other symptoms.
Migraines have a strong genetic component and can run in families. In fact, 60-70% of people with migraines have at least one immediate family member who also has migraines.
Family history of migraines
If either parent of your child has a history of migraines, you should be aware that your child is at increased risk for pediatric migraines. If you experience symptoms in your child, contact your pediatrician or other health care provider to discuss possible treatment.
Pediatric migraine symptoms
The main symptom of migraines is a severe headache, but migraines can come with a variety of other symptoms, especially in children. Symptoms of migraines in children often vary by age and include:
- Throbbing or throbbing headache
- Pale skin
- Be irritable or moody
- Sensitivity to light and sound
- Loss of appetite
- Nausea or vomiting
Infants and young children
Babies younger than one year old may experience headbanging episodes with migraines. This could be their only visible symptom.
Infants with experience of migraines:
- Irritability, rocking and crying
- Vomiting and abdominal pain
- The need to go to a dark room
- General appearance of malaise
School-age children and adolescents
School-age children and teenagers can articulate that their head hurts. You could say that her pain is in her forehead, in her temples, or in her eyes.
In children, migraines often occur on both sides of the head, as opposed to migraines in the elderly, which is usually concentrated on one side of the head.
Teenagers with migraines generally have more severe headaches than younger children. You may have a throbbing headache on one side, similar to adult migraines.
Migraines can be triggered by physical and environmental factors, including:
- Lack of sleep or too much sleep
- Certain foods
- Skip meals
- Weather or climate changes, including air pressure
- Hormonal changes, including menstruation
- Certain medications, including birth control pills, asthma treatments, and stimulants
- Changes in the normal daily routine
Diagnosing and treating migraines in children
Migraines in children are often underdiagnosed.
If your child has frequent headaches, discuss the possibility of migraines with your pediatrician, especially if they have a family history.
Healthcare professionals may order tests to rule out other causes of headache, but a diagnosis of pediatric migraine is usually made based on symptoms alone. Imaging tests are rarely needed, and there is no definitive test for pediatric migraines.
Once your child is diagnosed, your doctor will talk to you about treatment options, including medications. As with adult migraines, it is important to treat symptoms of pediatric migraines early. After your child has taken medication, they should rest in a quiet, dark room.
Treatment options for pediatric migraines include:
- Nonsteroidal Anti-Inflammatory Drugs (NSAIDs): These include over-the-counter pain relievers like Advil or Motrin (ibuprofen) and Aleve (naproxen sodium).
- Triptans: Prescription migraine medications can be used in children over 6 years of age when pain relievers are inadequate. Triptans interrupt the progression of a migraine.
Children and adolescents should take medication to treat migraines no more than twice a week.
Use of migraine medication in children
Since migraine medication should be infrequent in children, learning how to prevent pediatric migraines is an important part of your treatment plan. If your child has migraines that require treatment more than twice a week, speak to your pediatrician.
Prevention of migraines in children
To reduce reliance on medication, it is important to prevent migraines in children. Migraine prevention can also make medical treatment more effective, if needed.
To prevent migraines in children:
- Know your triggers. Pediatric migraines can be triggered by certain foods, overstimulation, stress, and other factors. Track your child’s symptoms to identify triggers and possibly avoid them in the future.
- Focus on mental health. Children’s migraines can be triggered by stress. Cognitive behavioral therapy has been shown to help children cope with stress better and thus reduce the frequency of their migraines.
- Healthy eating and exercise. Children should stay well hydrated by drinking plenty of water and avoiding caffeinated or sugary drinks. Meals should be taken at regular times and sugary, fatty, and processed foods should be avoided. Also, make sure your child is getting enough physical activity by encouraging exercise like cycling or swimming.
- Get a lot of sleep. Children with migraines should get eight to ten hours of sleep each night. You should go to bed and wake up at the same time each day.
A word from Verywell
Pediatric migraines can be a burden for children and parents. Watching your child suffer, especially when they’re too young to share their symptoms, can be heartbreaking.
Healthcare professionals learn more about pediatric migraines, including treatment and prevention techniques. Talk to your pediatrician or health care provider about how to effectively treat your child’s migraines and how to prevent them before they start.
frequently asked Questions
How do I know if my child has moderate or severe pediatric migraines?
It can be difficult for young children to express their pain. In general, a pediatric migraine is considered mild if it lasts less than two hours and moderate to severe if it lasts two to six hours. More severe migraines result in children being in severe pain, finding a quiet, dark room, and avoiding daily activities. Some children may feel sick or vomit.
How common are migraines in children?
Children’s migraines can occur two to four times a month. Migraines occur in around 3% of preschool children, 4% – 11% of primary school children, and 8% – 15% of high school children. Migraines are more common in boys before puberty and in girls after puberty.
What are the current recommendations for pediatric migraine prevention?
Many migraine triggers, such as weather and hormonal changes, cannot be prevented. However, there are some preventive measures parents and children can take to avoid migraines, including managing their physical and mental health, eating regular meals high in vegetables and protein, and avoiding sugar and processed foods.
Children should also get plenty of exercise and sleep. Cognitive behavioral therapy that teaches children how to better manage stress and emotions will help some children with pediatric migraines.