While migraines are most common in adults, particularly women, children are also prone to developing them. Migraines are not caused by stress or tension, like tension headaches, but rather result from an intricate biochemical process involving the constriction and expanding of blood vessels in the brain. It is estimated that as much as 5% of children are affected by migraine. Boys and girls equally are affected by migraines when they are very young, but during puberty the shift begins toward females suffering more than males. This shift in teenage girls is due to changes in hormones.
Migraines may be diagnosed in children as young as 4 years of age, though the process of diagnosis of migraines in children is a process of trial and error. Migraines are diagnosed as the cause of headaches only after ruling out more serious causes. In addition, a comprehensive family medical history should be provided, and both a general physical and neurological examination can be expected before diagnosis can be determined as migraines.
Most children who suffer with migraines will have inherited the sickness. Should migraines run in your family, you would be wise to keep an eye on whether your child is experiences any kind of motion sickness. Motion sickness if often seen as an early indicator of the possibility of developing migraines later on. Its very possible, in fact its quite probable, that there will be a family history of migraines. In addition, kids who develop migraines experienced colic, nightmares or disturbances in sleeping patterns. The throbbing pain experienced by a childrens migraine is often intense enough to interfere with school and other daily activities. You should also be aware that physical activity can exacerbate the situation so make sure your childs school PE teacher is aware of your childs condition.
As with adult migraines, auras may or may not accompany a childs headache. Auras are visual experiences such a flashing points of lights, zigzagging lights, etc. Unlike migraines in adults, however, the duration of migraines usually dont longer than three or four hours. Some extreme migraines may be accompanied by temporary neurological problems such as an inability to speak, a loss of sensation or even, in rare cases, a loss of consciousness.
Specific to children and migraines is the so-called “Alice in Wonderland” Syndrome. This syndrome involves hallucinations that distort images and shapes, or sometimes causes objects to appear larger or smaller. In fact, one theory has it that Lewis Carroll himself, the author of Alice in Wonderland, suffered from migraines and that the bizarre occurrences in his childrens classic is a rendering of his experiences.
Treatment for childrens migraines often includes the use of medications. Most children benefit from acetaminophen (Tylenol and other brands), or anti-inflammatory medications such as ibuprofen. If these over the counter medications don’t alleviate your child’s pain within several hours, you may need to look into the possibility of prescription medication. Some drugs are used to prevent or lessen the frequency of migraines, while others are used for immediate pain relief. Children can be involved in treatment by keeping a headache diary which may help them to identify factors that “trigger” a headache. They can plan for rest (headaches may be relieved by sleep) and learn to manage stress. Studies have shown that the frequency of migraines may be lessened by the use of biofeedback, relaxation techniques and acupuncture.
In addition, you may want to look into the many non-drug therapies that are available such as stress biofeedback, meditation and stress management. These approaches neednt take the place of medication, they can work in conjunction with medical treatment. Also, dont underestimate the importance of good nutrition, sticking to a solid sleep routine and making sure the child gets enough exercise.
If you suspect that your child may be experiencing migraines, consider making an appointment with your pediatrician after first keeping a migraine journal in which you recorded the following information:
How many headaches your child had each week. Where on the head was the pain located. How painful was the headache? How long the headache lasted. Did any foods, drinks or activities seem to set them off? Does your child’s headaches affect his/her normal activity?