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Children and Migraines: What You Need to Know

April 19, 2019

The only thing worse than being sick yourself is having a sick child. And children are not immune to migraine attacks. In fact, given that genetics play a role, if you or family members suffer from migraines, this increases the likelihood that some environmental factor, such as puberty, diet, or stress, could trigger migraines in your children. If your child is suffering from severe headaches or migraines, here’s what you need to know:


Children’s migraine symptoms are different than adults’ migraine symptoms.


There are basic differences between the symptoms of a migraine in a child and those in an adult. First, the duration of the attack is usually less, maybe 2 to 72 hours, whereas an adult may face anywhere from 4 to 72 hours. A child also usually experiences pain bilaterally (i.e., on both sides of the head), but an adult usually has more pain on one side than the other. A child will probably experience more nausea and vomiting, too, than the typical adult with a migraine.

Your physician may use different diagnostic tools to determine if your child has migraines.


Your physician will probably need to do a complete general health assessment as well as a neurological assessment. He or she will need a complete headache history with details about the attacks, their frequency, duration, and severity. Because of radiation concerns, the use of ultrasound or X-ray is usually discouraged unless an emergency situation is present. However, neuroimaging might be required if the child’s symptoms grow progressively more severe or if there is no family history of migraine attacks. Most likely, a lumbar puncture where spinal fluid is taken and tested will not be necessary unless there is an indication of infection, such as fever.


The recommended lifestyle modifications are the same for adults and children, but some adult migraine medications are not recommended for children.


Lifestyle modifications are the first defense against migraines for both adults and children. A balanced program which has both practical lifestyle components and medication must be individually suited to the child, but having a regular sleeping and eating schedule, regular exercise, a healthy diet, and adequate hydration are all important. Keeping a log of what a child eats, drinks, and does in the 24 hours before a migraine attack can provide clues about potential triggers.


Psychological treatments such as cognitive behavioral therapy and biofeedback including relaxation techniques have been more successful in treating children’s migraines than adults’ migraines. With biofeedback and relaxation techniques, a sensor is placed on a finger, and the child uses a combination of visualization and breathing to increase the blood flow and temperature in the finger.


As for prescription medications, a recent clinical trial shows that two commonly prescribed meds that are effective in adults for the prevention of migraines are no more effective than a placebo in preventing migraines in children. In addition, prescription meds sometimes have more adverse side effects in children than in adults. Over-the-counter pain relievers like acetaminophen and ibuprofen are considered safe to administer to children for the treatment of migraines unless there are contraindications for a certain child.

Children are not “little adults,” and this is especially true when it comes to the best treatments for migraines. Doctorpedia offers support through short videos from our expert physicians, so you can better understand what questions to ask your doctor about your child’s migraine treatment.

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Nan Kuhlman


Nan Kuhlman is an author, freelance writer, and part-time university professor based in Los Angeles, CA. She currently works full-time as a technical writer in Los Angeles and part-time as an online adjunct writing instructor. She has written for scholarly publications like the University of California, Davis Writing on the Edge and Chapman University’s Anastamos Interdisciplinary Journal, among others.

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