Pediatric abdominal migraines

Abdominal migraines cause severe stomach pain that interferes with your child’s schooling and childhood. Because this condition is so rare (it affects about 4% of school-age children), it’s important to seek care from digestive disease specialists who have experience treating it.

At Children’s Health℠, your child receives exceptional care at one of the nation’s top Pediatric Gastroenterology (GI) Programs as rated by U.S. News & World Report.


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What are pediatric abdominal migraines?

Children who experience abdominal migraines have intense abdominal pain often accompanied by nausea and vomiting. The pain is similar to a migraine headache but in the stomach. Some children also have head pain. An abdominal migraine attack can last from 2 to 72 hours. During this time, your child may not be able to play, eat well, sleep or go to school.

What are the signs and symptoms of pediatric abdominal migraines?

A child experiencing an abdominal migraine has stomach pain that centers around their belly button area. The pain may be moderate to severe, or your child may say it feels like a dull ache or belly tenderness. The pain lasts for at least two hours and may persist for up to three days.

Recurring episodes of abdominal migraines are common. Your child may be pain-free for weeks or months until another abdominal migraine occurs.

In addition to stomach pain, your child may also have:

How are pediatric abdominal migraines diagnosed?

Our digestive disease doctors (gastroenterologists) regularly treat children with this uncommon cause of stomach pain. While there isn’t a test to definitively diagnose abdominal migraines, our doctors have the experience and expertise to make a diagnosis.

Your child may undergo tests at our state-of-the-art Pediatric GI Lab to rule out conditions that cause similar symptoms. These conditions include:

What causes pediatric abdominal migraines?

Our doctors are actively involved in research to determine why some children develop abdominal migraines. Possible causes include changes in the amounts of serotonin (a chemical that aids digestion) or histamine (a chemical that helps the immune system fight germs) in a child’s body. Children with a family history of migraine headaches and abdominal migraines are also more at risk, which suggests there may be a genetic cause.

How are pediatric abdominal migraines treated?

Similar to treatments for migraines, a child with abdominal migraines benefits from multiple therapies. Your child may receive care at our Chronic Abdominal Pain Clinic. We have the only program in North Texas that brings together experts in digestive diseases, pain management and psychology to treat recurrent or persistent stomachaches in kids.

Our team customizes a treatment plan for your child’s unique symptoms. These treatments may include:

Pain medications

Some pain medicines can worsen stomach pain. To prevent this side effect, your child receives collaborative care from digestive disease and pain management physicians. They work together to find medications that can prevent abdominal migraines and ease stomach pain when it occurs.

Behavioral health support

Our GI psychologists specialize in psychological services for children experiencing chronic abdominal pain. Through cognitive behavior therapy (CBT) and other methods, your child learns healthy ways to manage stress, cope with emotions and make lifestyle changes that lower their risk of abdominal migraines.

Pediatric abdominal migraine doctors and providers

The diagnosis and treatment of pediatric abdominal migraines require a team approach. We bring together the experts your child needs.

Frequently Asked Questions

  • Who is at risk for abdominal migraines?

    Children under the age of 10 are most likely to experience abdominal migraines. The condition tends to affect girls more than boys. Most children outgrow abdominal migraines by their teen years, although they may start to have more migraine headaches.

  • What are the triggers for abdominal migraines?

    Some of the same things that trigger migraine headaches can also bring on abdominal migraines. These triggers include:

    • Anxiety or stress
    • Chocolate or certain foods made with nitrites (like hot dogs) or MSG (like ketchup and potato chips)
    • Lack of sleep
    • Missed meals or hunger
    • Travel or disruptions to daily routines