About 10% of children age 5-15 and up to 28% of teens experience migraines. Migraines are more than just a headache; the pain is so severe, it can cause other symptoms, and keep your child from functioning at school and at home.
It can be hard for parents, especially parents of young kids, to determine when their children have a simple headache and when they are experiencing a migraine. By understanding causes and symptoms of migraines in kids, you can better help your child find migraine headache relief.
What causes migraines in children?
Migraine headaches occur when blood vessels in a child’s brain constrict temporarily. Migraine triggers can vary depending on the child, but common migraine triggers can include:
- Bright lights
- Certain foods
- Change in sleep patterns
- Changes in weather
- Too much physical activity
- Too much sun exposure
If you as a parent experience migraines, your child is more likely to experience migraines, too. However, even if you don’t have a family history of migraines, your child may have migraine pain.
How do I know if my child has a migraine?
Symptoms of migraines in children are different and often more severe than headache symptoms. Migraine symptoms in kids may include:
- Abdominal pain
- Loss of appetite
- Pain that gets worse when you move around
- Pulsating or throbbing pain in the front or sides of the head
- Sensitivity to light or sound
Younger children may show migraine symptoms by crying and holding their head. They may not want to move or play; they will just want to lie down.
“There are many different types of headaches,” explains Tonia Sabo, M.D., pediatric neurologist at the Children’s Health℠ Headache Clinic, Medical Director of the Neuro-Concussion program and Associate Professor at UT Southwestern. “Typically, migraines are the types of headaches that stop the child from playing.”
If your child shows any migraine symptoms, you should speak to his or her pediatrician about finding relief. Treating migraines early, in childhood or adolescence, can prevent them from becoming a chronic problem.
How are migraines treated in children?
One of the best ways to help a child with migraines is to have a headache action plan in place. Work with your physician to establish the best migraine treatment plan for your child.
“Sometimes kids need a preventive therapy to avoid headache triggers and stress,” says Dr. Sabo. “Sometimes kids need medications to regulate the migraine center in the brain, to help it calm down so headaches aren’t as frequent. All of this is included in the headache action plan.”
Medications that might be used to treat migraines in children include:
- Over-the-counter pain relievers like acetaminophen or ibuprofen
- Triptans, a type of non-narcotic medicine that can stop migraines after they start
- Ergotamines, a type of headache medicine that is typically reserved for more difficult to treat or persistent headaches and can be more effective when used with other drugs
Children can take these medicines as pills, nasal sprays or even injectables, depending on their needs.
A headache action plan may also include treatments and therapies that can help prevent migraines in children, such as:
- Supplements like riboflavin or magnesium
- Cognitive behavioral therapy for stress
- Yoga to relieve stress
- Relaxation techniques
- Botox injections
- Nerve blocks
No matter the type of migraine treatment, your child will need to be involved in his or her care. Kids need to learn strategies to prevent migraines, identify when they are coming and use treatments appropriately to effectively manage – and stop – their migraines.
The Children’s Health Headache Clinic offers expert, multidisciplinary care for children coping with headaches and migraines. Learn more about our headache program and services.