When is a headache a migraine?
Feb 6, 2018, 9:22:30 AM CST Jun 8, 2018, 1:11:42 PM CDT

When is a headache a migraine?

How to tell if your child is suffering from migraines – and how to help

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Teenage boy sitting holding his head Teenage boy sitting holding his head

About 5% of children ages 15 and younger 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 learning migraine symptoms, you can better help your child find pain relief.

Symptoms of migraines in children

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.

“There are many different types of headaches,” explains Tonia Sabo, M.D., pediatric neurologist at the Children’s Health℠ Headache Clinic and Medical Director of the neuro-concussion program. “Typically migraines are the types of headaches that stop the child from playing.”

Symptoms of migraines are different and often more severe than headache symptoms. These symptoms may include:

  • Abdominal pain
  • Dizziness
  • Fatigue
  • Loss of appetite
  • Nausea
  • 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
  • Vomiting

Younger children may show symptoms of migraines by crying and holding their head. They may not want to move or play; they will just want to lie down.

If your child shows any of these symptoms, you should speak to his or her pediatrician about finding relief from migraine pain. Dr. Sabo says treating migraines early, in childhood or adolescence, can help prevent them from becoming a chronic problem.

Treatment for migraines in children

Dr. Sabo encourages all her patients to have a headache action plan in place.

“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 a little so headaches aren’t as frequent. All 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 that can help prevent migraines, such as:

  • Supplements like riboflavin or magnesium
  • Cognitive behavioral therapy for stress
  • Yoga to relieve stress
  • Relaxation techniques
  • Acupuncture
  • Botox injections
  • Nerve blocks

No matter the type of treatment, your child will need to be involved in his or her migraine 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.

Learn more

Help your child experience fewer migraines with care from the experts at the Children’s Health Headache Clinic. Contact us today at 214-456-8131.

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