What can be done for children with migraine headaches?

Recently, as I finished up a visit with one of my patients who has migraine, she asked me the following: “My 10 year old daughter gets headaches. Is it possible that she has migraines too? I had headaches as a child and was always told it was nothing to worry about, but now I have headaches several times a month. Is there anything I can do to prevent this from happening to her?”

Yes, kids get migraines too. Close to 60% of children are prone to headaches and almost 10% of girls and 6% of boys have migraine. Migraines can be seen in children as young as five years old.  The reason people have migraines is likely a combination of genetics and environmental triggers. If you have migraine there’s a 50/50 shot that your child will have migraine too.

Migraines can be different in children than in adults. They usually don’t last as long and are often accompanied by turning pale, vomiting and wanting to get to sleep. Children are less likely to have light and sound sensitivity and more likely to be sensitive to smell. Children with migraine often get motion sickness when riding in a car. Sometimes children don’t have head pain at all but instead have repeated episodes of vomiting, recurrent dizziness or belly pain

Migraine can be a progressive disorder and worsening can be related to how much time you have with headache. The more hours, days and years with headache the bigger the risk. A child with headaches starting at 10 has many years ahead of her to manage her migraines. However, if migraines are recognized and treated, this progression can be halted.

So, what can be done for children with migraine? Recognizing migraines is the most important step. The good news is often kids don’t need medication to improve their migraines. Lifestyle changes such as regular sleep and mealtimes along with regular physical activity can improve migraines significantly. Techniques such as biofeedback and meditation can be learned. All of these things, put in place early, can set your child up for a life long good habits that can help halt headaches before they start. If that’s not enough there are safe and effective medications that can be used in children and a discussion with your pediatrician or a neurologist can help with these decisions.

Mark W. Green is Director, Center for Headache and Pain Medicine and Professor of Neurology and Anesthesiology, Mount Sinai School of Medicine.

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