Story by: Jennifer Reynolds on August 10, 2017
If you’ve ever had a migraine, you’d probably agree you wouldn’t wish one on anyone, much less a child. However, migraines in kids are real and you can learn how to recognize them and help your child through the pain.
“About 5 percent of all children experience migraine and this increases to 10 percent during the teenage years,” said Elizabeth Doll, M.D., neurologist with Norton Children’s Neuroscience Institute, affiliated with the UofL School of Medicine. “About half of all migraine sufferers have their first attack by age 12.”
Migraine isn’t just “a bad headache.” It’s a complicated neurological disease, with crushing head pain and other symptoms including nausea and vomiting; dizziness; and sensitivity to touch, sound, light and odors.
“In the past, migraine headaches were thought to be caused by changes in blood flow to the brain,” Dr. Doll said. “We are now finding that it’s not that simple. Migraines are thought to be caused by several different factors, including changes in brain chemicals and electrical signaling. Genetics also plays a large role.”
It’s quite common for migraines in kids to lead to missed school and after-school and weekend activities. In fact, these kids are absent from school twice as often as kids who don’t.
Dr. Doll recommends first discussing your child’s symptoms with your pediatrician. Usually, there are simple lifestyle changes that can be made to avoid migraine triggers in kids. Over-the-counter medications also can help when used sparingly. For more frequent or severe migraines, a referral to a child neurologist may be needed.
Until you learn what triggers a migraine, it’s best to keep a diary or journal of activities, food, sleep and when migraines occur so you can determine what causes them. Then, work to ensure your child:
“Another common trigger for migraine is hormone changes that come with puberty and menstruation,” Dr. Doll said. “That can’t be avoided, but there are ways to help your child through the pain.”
Once your child has been diagnosed with migraines and you know what to expect, they become more manageable and less scary. Here are some tips for getting through the pain:
New research has found that there are warning signs before a migraine starts. A study found that more than 40 percent of kids who get migraines experience extreme fatigue and sudden moodiness up to 24 hours before their head starts hurting. Noticing these signs gives you a chance to start medication or have your child hydrate and get some rest, which could keep the migraine from happening.
More than 15,000 children come to Norton Children’s Hospital every year for neurological care. Thanks to support from University of Louisville Physicians – Child Neurology and the Children’s Hospital Foundation, the hospital now has 11 pediatric neurologists and 15 neurology nurse practitioners. This means kids have more timely access to child neurology expertise.
In most cases, children with a referral from a pediatrician can be seen by a child neurologist within a few days. For more information on child neurology, call (502) 629-KIDS.