Pediatric migraine education, awareness and management starts by answering these questions

As a pediatric neurologist, Dr. Andrew Hershey fields a lot of children’s questions about migraine. “I tell the kids, ‘I can diagnose you and I can treat you, but my main goal is to educate you.’” He believes that educating his patients will help them better control their head pain. We sat down with Dr. Hershey, endowed chair and director of neurology at Cincinnati Children’s Hospital, to hear his answers to some of the most common questions kids ask him.

Why do I have migraine?

Migraine is a genetic disease long known to run in families. When Dr. Hershey explains this to his young patients, they often ask who they should blame – their mom, their dad or both. While it’s important to make sure children don’t blame themselves for their diagnosis, it can be helpful to trace migraine back through the family tree to explain that there’s no end to the blame game. “That shows them the concept that there’s no one person or thing they can blame it on, so they can start treating their [migraine attacks] and move forward,” says Dr. Hershey.

How do I make my migraine better?

Dr. Hershey explains the migraine brain is very sensitive and needs to be taken care of. He uses the example of lightheadedness, a migraine symptom that many children experience. Since lightheadedness is often related to dehydration, he tells his patients to drink a lot of water to minimize that symptom.

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Other lifestyle changes that can help reduce migraine attacks include exercising, eating healthy and getting enough sleep on a regular basis. He notes that this is a little difficult because of school start times. With that said, he appreciates how several school systems, including Cincinnati Public Schools, have pushed back start times to help students get more rest.

Will my migraine get better as I grow up?

The short answer is that it often depends on whether you’re a boy or a girl. “If you look at it statistically, at about age 10, 10% of boys and girls have migraine. Fairly equal,” says Dr. Hershey, “But, by adulthood, it’s more up to about 18% of women, 6% of men.” He tells boys that there is 40% chance by the time they’re done with puberty that they’ll have outgrown their migraine. To girls, he stresses the importance of continuing to take good care of themselves. “It’s not the matter that you need to outgrow them, but you can learn to control [factors that trigger migraine attacks or make them worse],” he says.

By teaching children about migraine and establishing healthy habits from a young age, Dr. Hershey hopes to help children manage their migraine as they grow older. He also points out that teaching educators and school nurses also helps reduce stigma in school systems. Raising awareness of migraine as a disease is essential to helping children find the support they need to excel in school and life.

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 or Pediatric Migraine Content Hub. For help finding a healthcare provider, check out our Find a Doctor tool. Together, we are as relentless as migraine.