Teams of specialists bring comprehensive care to a vulnerable population

It’s never easy being the parent of a child in pain. Children with migraine present unique challenges because, often, pediatric patients have a more difficult time understanding the pain and disruption caused by their migraine, let alone describing it. However, help is available. In addition to your child’s pediatrician, there are pediatric neurologists and other specialists that specifically treat children with headache pain. At a comprehensive headache center, a variety of different headache specialists all work under one roof—a resource that combines various approaches to managing migraine and headache disorders. We spoke with Dr. Jessica Gautreaux, child neurologist and headache specialist at Children’s Hospital in New Orleans and LSU Health Sciences Center in New Orleans, about the role comprehensive headache centers can play.

How does a comprehensive headache center differ from a headache specialist?

“A comprehensive headache center is a medical facility where doctors in multiple disciplines come together to help take care of patients with headache disorders,” says Dr. Gautreaux. Typically represented in this team are leading neurologists or headache specialists, psychologists, physical therapists, and/or nutritionists. She explains, each of these providers and specialists “come together to tie all the areas of care into one place.”

Such facilities tend to focus on patients with headache disorders that are especially difficult to treat. “Multidisciplinary care is really good for headache because migraine and other headache disorders are affected by multiple aspects of life,” Dr. Gautreaux says. This includes medical regimens, lifestyle, mental health issues, and physical or weight issues. “Some people who have chronic headache disorders may have become deconditioned or may have other chronic pain disorders, and having a physical therapist available may help you be able to get more active or learn exercises to relieve some of your pain,” she explains.

Comprehensive headache centers’ role for pediatric patients

Pediatric headache patients will typically see a pediatrician and then a child neurologist, if necessary, as the first line of treatment. “Migraine is very common in kids, and pediatric neurologists in general are usually very comfortable taking care of children with headache disorders,” says Dr. Gautreaux. “For children who have more difficult-to-treat headache disorders, sometimes a comprehensive headache center is a better fit for them.”

However, many comprehensive headache centers are just for adults. “Sometimes comprehensive headache centers will feel comfortable taking care of older teenagers, but certainly not always the younger children,” says Dr. Gautreaux.  For younger children with headache disorders, it is important to find a pediatric headache center. “If the neurologist feels that the headaches require further intervention, they will help to get you to a comprehensive headache center,” she says. However, physically reaching a comprehensive headache center specifically for children may involve travel, as they’re not as common as general child neurology practices.

Preparing for your child’s visit to a Comprehensive Headache Center

If your child’s neurologist feels he or she needs the integrated care of a comprehensive headache center, Dr. Gautreaux says parents should carefully prepare for the first visit. Expect to answer a lot of questions about your child’s health and headache history. “Coming prepared with some notes about the entire duration of the illness is going to be very important,” says Dr. Gautreaux. “Sometimes keeping track of headaches before you go to the center can be very helpful as well, because they’re going to want to get a good feel for how often your child is having headaches, how long they’re lasting, and how this impacts their daily life.”

Make sure to bring a list of headache medications your child has taken, including “medications they’ve taken at the onset of headaches for pain, but also any medications that they’ve tried in the past to prevent or change the pattern of their headaches.” Gather medical records. If your child has had testing done, include images and lab work so your child’s practitioners have the fullest possible picture of their issues with headache in order to deliver the most effective treatment.

Comprehensive headache centers and multidisciplinary approaches to migraine provide options for children and adolescents living with migraine. We encourage parents to learn more about treatment options to find one that works for your child and your family.

The American Migraine Foundation is committed to improving the lives of those living with this debilitating disease. For more of the latest news and information on migraine, visit the AMF Resource Library. For help finding a healthcare provider, check out our Find a Doctor tool. Together, we are as relentless as migraine.