Understanding Pediatric Migraines

Little child being sick and holding her hand on forehead

The healthcare providers at Alzein Pediatrics understand the intense pain of pediatric migraines. About 8% of kids experience migraine. Before puberty, both boys and girls are similarly affected; after puberty it is predominantly girls who suffer. As many as 2% of kids have chronic migraine, experiencing a pain more than 15 days each month.

A migraine is not just a headache, which is produced by tension constricting blood vessels in the head, causing inflammation. Research shows us that migraine headaches develop differently, as the inflammatory response occurs in the meninges, the membranes surrounding the brain and spine. Because migraine headaches involve nerve fibers, the symptoms of a migraine extend well beyond an achy head.

We’ve seen children experience symptoms more intensely than adults. While twinkling lights or auras, are less common in kids, your child may complain of:

  • Pain that is intense, throbbing, and/or pulsating.
  • Pain can be in the front of head, the whole head, both sides of the head or part of the head.
  • Lightheadedness and dizziness.
  • Trouble focusing on tasks.
  • Sensitivity to light or sound or both.
  • Loss of appetite.
  • Nausea, vomiting, or abdominal pain.

When a child experiences a migraine for the first time, you may be inclined to get them to the ER, the pain will be so debilitating. In fact, estimates suggest migraines account for 18% of all pediatric emergency room visits.

Researchers now think that migraines are caused by a malfunctioning release of neurotransmitters from the brain, but they haven’t pinpointed what causes the malfunction. Many children seem to get migraines for no reason, but in some kids, we do see triggers.

The most common trigger for migraines in children is stress, typically occurring in school, such as academic challenges, friend issues, and bullying. Stress can also be triggered by family situations such as a death or divorce. Your Alzein Pediatrics provider may recommend behavioral health therapy to help ease stress and minimize migraines.

We will recommend you and your child keep a headache journal. In this journal, you will record how long your child slept each night, what they ate for each meal and snacks, any medications they took, what activities they engaged in and when and how a migraine developed. It’s also helpful to note the weather each day. In this way, we’ll be able to identify patterns that may trigger a migraine in your child.

We may order diagnostic tests like blood work. We may also order imaging of the brain, but this imaging is not standard first-line care.

Many migraines can be avoided by ensuring your child is getting regular, adequate sleep, is physically active, stays hydrated with plenty of water, and eats a healthy diet throughout the day. When migraines do occur, give your child the recommended dosage of ibuprofen (Motrin). Have them rest in a dark, quiet room – no screens – with a cooling cloth on their forehead. If symptoms are not relieved, call our office at 708-424-7620 to schedule an appointment.

Do you have questions about headaches, or suspect your child is having migraines? Message your provider through your patient portal or book an appointment today.

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