When you think of migraines, you probably imagine an adult experiencing severe, crippling head pain from time to time. But migraines aren’t a health problem that only affects adults. Children and teens can get them and they can be just as severe as they are for adults. In this article, we’ll provide you with the information every parent needs on how to treat pediatric migraines.
Symptoms of pediatric migraines
Pediatric patients often experience tension type headache pain as well as migraines. In fact, among children in the United States aged 5 – 17, “15% experience tension-type headaches and 5% are coping with migraines.”
Your child may not have the words to express what she is feeling. She is also likely unfamiliar with coping mechanisms adults use to relieve pain. If your child is struggling with pediatric migraines, your first stop might be the emergency department at your local hospital. It’s important to recognize the symptoms as well as the prevalence of migraine pain your child is experiencing. This can help you prevent them as well as manage them without those ER visits.
Those symptoms include:
- headache pain lasting between 3 hours to 3 days
- stomach pain
- blurry vision
- light sensitivity
In children, a migraine’s effects may be less painful than in adults. However, other physical symptoms can be more severe.
If you have a child who is unable to describe her own symptoms, you may feel powerless in determining how to treat pediatric migraines.
Look for signs of migraine onset that include:
- grabbing his or her head
- loss of appetite
- sensitivity to light
- drastic mood swings
- constant yawning
There is one key way to predict the onset of a migraine. Before a migraine begins, many sufferers describe a type of premonition that they are about to happen. These are known as auras. Auras can take the form of:
- vision problems (such as sight loss, blind spots, or seeing shapes, colors, spots, or flashes)
- difficulty remembering words (aphasia), or slurred speech
- feelings of pins & needles types of sensations, or the feeling that a part of the body has fallen asleep
- temporary weakness in the limbs (hemiplegic migraines)
Auras last around an hour or less, getting worse with time. They can accompany the onset of a migraine headache.
Before the aura occurs, children may also go through a longer period of time (1-2 days) where they begin yawning uncontrollably or are more cranky, hyperactive, hungry or morose than usual. Complaints of stiffness/soreness in the neck are also common during this time. This period and auras may not occur in every child, but it’s important to remain vigilant for signs of them and to plan accordingly.
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Diagnosing pediatric migraines
When children are very young, they cannot express themselves fully or have never experienced a migraine before, so pediatric migraines can be challenging to diagnose. But it’s crucial to their health and to their quality of life to get a proper diagnosis. When migraines are frequent, they can have an impact on a child’s school days and attendance and his or her engagement in extracurricular activities.
Your child’s doctor can diagnose pediatric migraines by following the criteria in the International Classification of Headache Disorders. In addition to going through the checklist, your health specialist should be skilled at recognizing sometimes subtle manifestations of signs of migraines.