Migraine in Children

Recurring symptoms that may include headache and abdominal pain

  • Can occur as early as 2 years of age
  • More common in girls
  • Sometimes runs in families
  • May be triggered by certain foods, fumes, and perfume

Migraine is a significant cause of headache in children, particularly girls, and by the age of 15 about 1 in 10 children has experienced an attack. The condition is known to occur in children as young as 2 years of age. However, childhood migraine often differs from that experienced by adults, and the disorder can sometimes be difficult to recognize. In younger children, the symptoms frequently include recurrent episodes of abdominal pain or vomiting, and the one-sided headaches and nausea that are typical of the condition in adults (see Migraine) may not occur.

What are the causes?

Why some children develop migraine is not fully understood, but the condition sometimes runs in families, suggesting that genetic factors may be involved. Migraine is thought to be associated with changes in the blood flow through the blood vessels inside the skull. There may also be temporary alterations in the levels of chemicals in the brain, which are probably responsible for triggering some of the symptoms elsewhere in the body.

Certain substances are known to trigger attacks of migraine. These include some types of food, commonly chocolate, cheese, citrus fruits, and alcohol, and inhaled substances such as perfume, petrol fumes, and tobacco smoke.

What are the symptoms?

In children under 8 years, the symptoms of migraine may not include headache. Symptoms develop gradually over a few hours, and a child may experience:

  • Pain in the centre of the abdomen.

  • Pale skin.

  • Tiredness.

  • Vomiting.

Often, these symptoms persist for several days. If children continue to have attacks of migraine as they grow older, they are likely to have symptoms more similar to those experienced by adults. These symptoms develop over a few hours and may include:

  • Visual disturbances, such as seeing flashing lights.

  • Headache, typically on one side.

  • Nausea and vomiting.

  • Dislike of bright lights.

Rarely, a child may experience temporary weakness in one arm or leg.

What might be done?

The doctor may be able to diagnose migraine from your child’s symptoms. Occasionally, he or she may arrange for tests, such as CT scanning or MRI of the head, or, in young children, ultrasound scanning of the abdomen, to exclude other disorders.

Resting quietly in bed in a darkened room may make your child feel better. Taking painkillers will also help to relieve a headache or abdominal pain. If the symptoms are severe, the doctor will probably prescribe specialized drugs (see Antimigraine drugs). Drugs such as beta-blockers may also be prescribed as a long-term treatment to help to prevent continuing attacks of migraine. Your child’s diet may also be reviewed by a dietitian to identify foods that may trigger migraine attacks.

With treatment, the symptoms of childhood migraine can usually be controlled. Often, the condition disappears completely as a child becomes older, although in some cases migraine attacks continue throughout adulthood.

From the 2010 revision of the Complete Home Medical Guide © Dorling Kindersley Limited.

The subjects, conditions and treatments covered in this encyclopaedia are for information only and may not be covered by your insurance product should you make a claim.

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