I’m a mom living with a teen who gets migraines. I knld safety,ow I’m not alone, and I know there are other moms out there who wish there were something they could do to ease their child’s pain. My son, Scott, doesn’t get run-of-the-mill migraines (if there is such a thing). He gets horribly debilitating, scary migraines.
Scott is 16 years old. He started having migraines when he was 4 or 5. He would get them about once a month and be in tremendous pain. They would come on at the weirdest times and didn’t seem to have much of a pattern. At that time, he was so little that I would wonder, “How can someone so young have such serious migraines?”
We would give Scott over-the-counter medication, and after some time had passed he would vomit and start to feel better. He would sleep for about three hours, wake up and be a little foggy, and then that would be it.
Scott’s pediatrician said these migraines weren’t a concern unless he started having them more than once a week. We’ve figured out that they are triggered by sleep — lack of it or even a change in quality of sleep, bedtime, wake time or number of hours slept. Consistent sleep is the key. Also, not getting enough to drink during the day (dehydration) is a trigger.
But just when we thought we had the migraine monster under control, the mother of all migraines hit. Scott called me while I was at work. I was used to getting these calls, but this time something was different. He was slurring his words and I couldn’t understand what he was saying. All I could make out was, “It just hurts. It just hurts.” I immediately left work and picked him up at school. He laid down in the back seat and started saying things that didn’t fit together. I pulled over and noticed his pupils were dilated. At this point, I thought, “These are signs of stroke. What do I do? Do I bring him to his pediatrician? To a hospital?” I panicked. If he is having a stroke, I need to get him help now! I turned around and went straight to Norton Children’s Hospital.
The hospital staff began asking me questions about Scott, including if we had been traveling. We had just gotten back from a cruise the day before. It dawned on me that he didn’t have a lot of sleep during the cruise, he wasn’t on his usual schedule, he was out in the sun, water wasn’t readily available and so he probably was not as hydrated as he normally would be. All the triggers we now know to watch for.
Scott failed all the neurological tests the doctors gave him and then underwent brain scans. We learned he was having a migraine with aura, formerly called a complex migraine. He was started on a “migraine cocktail” and very soon after began to relax from the pain subsiding. About eight hours later, he passed the neurological tests and was speaking clearly again. He would be fine and there was no damage to his brain. We all took a sigh of relief.
“Migraine with aura is a migraine that has accompanying neurological symptoms,” said Brian Plato, D.O., neurologist and headache specialist with Norton Neuroscience Institute. “Approximately 20 percent of people with migraine will experience aura with some of their migraine attacks. Symptoms range from mild visual disturbances to weakness and trouble speaking. For some adolescents, particularly males, they become less frequent as they reach adulthood.”
As a mom, we lose one worry just to gain another. We were out of the woods this time, but I began thinking about if there will be a next time. What if this happens again? Do we go to the ER again? I was so scared that he was having a stroke, and I don’t want either of us to go through this again. I was thankful to be in a place where there were doctors who specialized in diagnosing and treating head and brain issues in kids. They put me at ease.
“Certainly the first time a child experiences symptoms like Scott’s, it’s very frightening,” Dr. Plato said. “For new or unusual neurological symptoms, it is important to seek urgent medical attention. Once the parent and child know what to expect with migraine, they become more manageable and not so scary.”
Now that we know Scott is predisposed to migraines with aura, we have a regimen of medication he can take at home. We can follow up with his pediatrician and avoid a trip to the ER.