How to Treat Children with Migraine
Children’s migraine symptoms are unique and may not respond to adult treatment methods
Migraine doesn’t just impact grown-ups: Unfortunately, about 70 percent of children with migraine have an immediate family member who currently has migraine attacks or who had them as a child, suggesting migraine may be a family-wide health issue. If you’re a parent who suffers from migraine, it’s especially important to be mindful of signs that your child or children may be exhibiting migraine symptoms. Migraine attacks can be just as debilitating and painful for children and adolescents as they are for adults, and their effects can extend beyond the physical. Children who suffer from headaches may end up socializing less or struggling with their schoolwork, among other activities.
How Children’s Symptoms Are Different
It can be challenging to determine if a child is suffering a migraine, or another ailment, because their symptoms, and the way they react to headaches, often differ from the symptoms and reactions of adults. Further complicating diagnosis, children may have trouble communicating the symptoms they are experiencing before, during or after a migraine attack—not to mention the fact that we are asking them to go to school, play outside, and work through the pain. So while children may experience the same symptoms as adults, like dizziness, fatigue, nausea and sensitivity to light or sound, they are more likely than adults to experience abdominal migraine, which can cause pain in their abdomen, nausea and vomiting. These migraine attacks are most common in children 5 to 9 years old and can last from just a few hours to several days. Even colic in infants has been linked to migraine later in life, indicating that colic may be the earliest sign of migraine attacks.
Identifying Children’s Triggers
Documenting patterns in children’s migraine attacks can also help kids identify and avoid their triggers, which tend to be similar to triggers in adults. By paying attention to specific foods that might correlate to migraine attacks, like caffeine or chocolate, parents can teach their children to avoid them. Stress is another common trigger. Just because a child is young doesn’t mean they’re not experiencing stress related to their family, school or friends. An expert can help children to develop relaxation techniques like meditation or strategies to address stressful situations, potentially reducing the frequency and severity of migraines throughout a child’s life.
How to Treat Children with Migraine
If a child is experiencing symptoms associated with migraine, like nausea and pain, an adult should contact a doctor to seek a proper diagnosis and treatment. For children and adolescents who experience infrequent migraine attacks, over-the-counter medications that target specific symptoms—for example, analgesics like Tylenol or Children’s Motrin for pain—can provide some relief, though always speak with a doctor before starting any pain management regimen. To alleviate symptoms from frequent, recurring migraine attacks, triptans can be administered to adolescents and, in some rare cases, to children. Your child’s doctor will determine if that medication is appropriate for your child’s age and the severity of his or her symptoms. Don’t underestimate the relief that you can provide your child by offering reassurance and understanding. Creating a calm, quiet and safe environment and soothing your child for the duration of his or her migraine can provide tremendous comfort during what may be a painful and scary experience.
Children’s migraine is unique, and it requires a unique treatment plan with the aid of specialists who understand and have expertise in the diagnosis and treatment of migraine. Visit the American Migraine Foundation’s database of migraine and headache specialists who can help treat young migraine sufferers.