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Childhood Migraines

Debora V
Senior Editor, TipsHire

Childhood Migraines: When Are They More Than Just Headaches?

If a simple migraine can be easily overlooked in adults, things are different in children, when the least pain can cause serious concern among parents. Unfortunately, adults aren’t the only one prone to experience headaches. About 10% in school-age children and teenagers can have them, too, and the most common type of headache in children are tension headache. Around 5% of children suffer from migraine starting at the age of four, but there has been reported in children as early as 18 months old.

Half of all the victims of migraines experienced their first painful episode before the age of 12. Even though parents tend to worry that their child migraines could be a sign of a serious medical condition, such as brain tumor, most cases are simple pains with nothing else to hide. Pay attention to your child symptoms and talk to their doctor before starting to worry. Together with your doctor you’ll find the proper treatment to reduce the unpleasant symptoms.

What are the causes of childhood migraines?

There are different causes responsible for the appearance of headaches. Some children get them due to different health problems, such as infections of the throat, sinusitis, fever or cold. It is true that doctors don’t know exactly what the causes of migraines are, it is known that they are connected to physical and chemical changes in the brain. Also, their appearance is influenced by genes that parents transmitted to their children.

In some cases, factors such as anxiety, stress, depression, a change in sleep habits, certain types of foods or loud noises can trigger migraines. When stressful situations appear, our brain releases specific chemicals to fight them, which produces vascular changes that lead to migraine. In these cases, removing trigger factors can lead to pain relief. Some children may experience migraines when they expose too much to sun or they perform too much physical activity. Migraines can also be triggered by bright lights or changes in weather, but these trigger factors are less common in children and more frequent in adults.

When migraines appear at an early age, it suggests that the child may be prone to other problems that manifest through episodic symptoms that appear cyclically, such as abdominal pain, vertigo or torticollis.

Even though specific things can trigger migraines, their appearance is influenced by a combination of factors. If a known trigger determine the attack one day, the trigger can have no effect on other days. In order to trigger an attack, are necessary a combination of factors, which leads to migraines in children and adults, as well.

When your child suffers from migraines, make sure they respect their sleep patterns, because insufficient rest or too much sleep can trigger the attacks. Nevertheless, stress or sudden physical exercise can determine the appearance of migraines. Paying attention to any change in your children’s life allows you to better deal with the unpleasant effects of migraines and to treat them.

Symptoms of migraines

Migraines produce pains that can be described as pounding and throbbing, even though they generally start as a dull ache. The pain can be mild, moderate or severe and is aggravated by physical activity. Children and teenagers feel it in front and both sides of the head, while adults notice the pain on one side of the head. Unfortunately, they can last from four hours to a week and can appear along with other symptoms, such as pallor, fatigue, sensitivity to light, odors or noise, loss of appetite, dizziness and blurred vision. In rare cases patients experience fever and diarrhea.

If most of migraine cases are harmless, it is crucial to immediately consult a pediatrician if your child experience loss of vision, vomiting, muscle weakness, pain in the back of the head located in young children and symptoms that make your children awake during the night. These symptoms could suggest a more serious problem and you need to take your child to a doctor as soon as possible.

The difference between children and adults migraines

The way migraines manifest differ from adults to children. Therefore, children may experience shorter migraines that last only one hour or two, with a reduced frequency. Also, the pain could disappear after a period of a few months to years. The pain is more bi-frontal than unilateral, but it become more unilateral as the children get older. When children are two to eight years old, they could experience other childhood migraines syndromes, as mentioned above, such as abdominal migraine and cyclic vomiting syndrome.

Similar to migraines, with the difference that the pain is felt abdominally, abdominal migraines manifest through vague and cramping pain around the belly button or all over the stomach. Cyclic vomiting syndrome represents serious episodes of vomiting that can cause dehydration, which are predictable to occur again weeks later.

Not all the children who suffer from migraines experience the same symptoms, as they can vary not only from child to child, but also from one attack to another. If some children suffer an occasional episode, others experience attacks more often, on a weekly basis or even every day. Also, some children suffer attacks daily for a period of weeks and then migraines suddenly stop for months, while others have migraines regularly, whether it is monthly or weekly.

How do migraines affect children’s lives?

Migraines aren’t easy to take, whether you are an adult or a child. Along with the discomfort of the physical pain, children can get very scared during the attack, especially if they experience migraines for the first time. Not only that it can lead to anxiety, but also it stresses children, because it makes them miss important activities, such as school or even playing their favorite sport. Due to the recurrence of the attacks, children are afraid that a certain activity triggers the migraine.

When attacks appear regularly, they represent a serious problem, because affect different aspect of children’s life. Therefore, it affects their education and makes them feel different because they have to miss school or to catch up on missed lessons. In order to get good school results, children have to make a lot more effort, which can be overwhelming and exhausting. There are children who suffer from migraines during the weekend, which is also unpleasant because its affects the usual activities with family and friends.

Generally, the weekends are the favorite times of the week, when everyone relaxes and spends time doing the things they love the most. The appearance of migraines in weekends can seriously affects a child’s life, especially because it influences their social life. Therefore, migraines have a negative influence on children’s life, whether it influences their education or social life. The best thing a parent can do is to prevent and treat migraines as efficient as possible.

How to help a child with migraine?

When your child suffers a migraine, there are some things you can do to help them cope with the unpleasant symptoms. The first thing you need to do is to consult a doctor who can put the correct diagnosis and recommend an effective treatment. Another important step in dealing with your child’s migraines is to keep a record on the attacks’ frequency and their triggers, as well as the treatment used. This way it is easy to know when an attack may appear and which treatment can work better.

Keeping a close watch to your children allows you to tell when they are about to experience an attack. Pay attention to symptoms such as: confusion, pale complexion, irritability, fatigue, anxiety, difficulty concentrating and sleep changes. Keeping a diary helps you tell whether an attack is triggered by loud noises, skipping meals, stress, physical effort, weather changes or bright lights, as well as other factors. Also, the diary helps the doctor make a correct diagnosis and recommend an adequate treatment.

Also, it is important to offer emotional support, because experiencing migraine is never easy, especially when it is accompanied with aura. When this happens, the patient experiences cortical dysfunction, which consists of sensory, visual, motor or speech disturbance, as well as loss of consciousness and vertigo. Aura is more difficult to take for children than the pain itself and the most common is visual aura, which appears with blurred vision, micropsia or macropsia.

How to treat childhood migraines?

It is not unusual for a children to experience headache and can be easily treated at home. The first changes you need to take is to make sure your child take regular meals, sleeps regularly, rest in a quiet and dark room and avoid the triggers that may cause it. You can also give your child an over-the-counter pain reliever, such as acetaminophen or ibuprofen, but not before reading the label, to be sure you give it in a safe dosage, according to your child’s age. If your child is under 2 years old or has other medical problem, call the doctor before giving any medication.

Never give aspiring to your children, unless a doctor recommends it. If the attacks continue, the doctors may recommend a specific treatment to be taken regularly or when the attack begins. As long as you make sure that your child have enough rest, eat correctly and avoid any possible triggers, you increase the chances of preventing and fighting migraines.

When to worry?

When we see our child go through a migraine, the first instinct is to worry that it suffers from something serious. Try not to worry, because it happens rarely that migraines hide serious medical problems. It is recommended to contact the doctor if your child experiences migraine attacks once a month or even more often, the attacks are extremely painful and the pain don’t disappear easily. Also, if the attacks appear every morning after awakening and happen mostly in the morning, it also means you need to consult a specialist.

Other symptoms that means show you should contact the doctor include: migraine attacks accompanied by seizures, loss of consciousness, neck pain, personality changes, vomiting, the need to drink more liquids, skin rash, difficulty in performing daily activities, fever and other signs of infections, weakness or co-ordination and balance problems. The presence of one or more of these symptoms it does not necessarily mean that the child suffers from a serious medical condition, but it is advisable to consult a specialist to avoid any suspicion.

Children that have a history of seizures or head trauma need further investigation for eliminating any suspicions and receive a proper diagnosis. A correct diagnosis is essential no matter the symptoms, but when it comes to diagnosing migraines, doctors have a hard time. It often happens that a simple migraine is confused with sinusitis, astigmatism and, in severe cases, with meningitis and even tumors. Before starting to worry, it is best to visit a physician who can make a correct diagnostic and recommend a proper and effective treatment.

Most migraines are simple migraines and don’t indicate any other health problem. If they are treated early, we can prevent their complications. So, it is important to intervene as soon as you discover that your child suffers from a headache, even if it seems to be a simple headache. Try not to worry, pay attention to all the signs, consult your doctor if you think it is necessary and wait for the problem to be treated.

Generally, migraines are easier to take with age and their frequency reduces around adolescence. Unfortunately, around 50 per cent of children and adolescents who suffered from migraines will continue to have them as adults. So, if your child experience migraines, try not to worry, wait to see how things evolve, consult a pediatrician, and don’t forget to note in a journal information about their frequency, trigger factors, the duration of the attack, treatments that work and other similar details that help you treat them better.

Nevertheless, keep in mind that your child is not the only one with migraine, since this type of headaches is the most common one and about 5% of children suffer migraines even in toddler years.

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