Migraines and headaches can occur at any age, including in young children and adolescents. However, it’s crucial to understand that the disorder can manifest itself differently in children than it does in adults.
Usual migraine symptoms like nausea, vomiting, increased sensitivity to light and sound are not always prevalent among child sufferers. It’s also important to remember that children are less able to describe accurately the pain that they’re going through, making the diagnosis more difficult.
According to a study by the National Headache Foundation, nearly 20 percent of children between 5 and 17 years of age are prone to headaches. Approximately 15 percent of that 20 percent are experiencing tension-type headaches, and 5 percent are suffering with migraines.
These are the most common types of migraines that affect children.
1. Common migraine without aura
Early triggers of this type of migraine may have a correlation with family history of menstrual periods. In fact, around 70 percent of children and adolescents who experience migraines have an immediate family member who also suffers with the condition, or had them when they were a child.
Typical symptoms include tenderness in muscles, and light or sound sensitivities. There are also some children-specific migraine symptoms, such as cyclic vomiting periods, car or motion sickness, and infant colic pain.
The episodic symptoms and the frequency at which they come also differ in children. Migraine specialists also suggest that the child or guardian keep a pain diary that tracks important observations and tendencies before going ahead with an in-depth official diagnosis. This will help to give the specialist more context and allow for a more informed consultation.
2. Classic migraine with aura
Children under the age of ten often encounter this type of classic migraine some time in the later afternoon. As they grow older, the onset can be expected to shift to early morning.
This type of migraine involves an aura that indicates the outset, and usually lasts for ten to thirty minutes. Aura is characterized by distorted or blurred vision, blind spots, or shifting lights. It can also involve unsettling speech, sensory variations and motor weakness.
3. Abdominal Migraine
Another common type of migraine for children is one that involves a distinct abdominal pain, and is usually seen in children aged between seven and ten, with up to 4 percent of all children being affected by it.
The pain associated with an abdominal migraine can be sharp, crampy, or dull in nature, and can last from a few hours up to two or three days. The pain is normally felt around the belly button and can range from moderate to severe intensity. Children suffering with this condition may also undergo nausea, vomiting, loss of appetite, or heightened light or sound sensitivity.
Abdominal pain can also indicate a gastrointestinal or renal disease, so it’s advised to take a thorough and collateral assessment to ascertain and rule out the existence of these conditions.
What to do if my child is experiencing any of these types of migraines?
Like in adults, there are certain lifestyle tips that parents or guardians can incorporate in order to help prevent headaches or migraines in their children. Being strict with regard to regular, nutritious meals and uninterrupted sleep time will undoubtedly help any child that suffers with the condition. Getting quality sleep is aided by reducing screen time (or ideally, eliminating it altogether) at least two hours before bed, and of course, no caffeine consumption.
Taking these lifestyle changes on board can help prevent the onset of migraines and reduce the need for prescribed medication for children sufferers. However, if child is experiencing frequent migraine attacks, it is advised that they see a neurologist to prevent further deterioration of the condition.