Although migraines are common, they are often misunderstood – especially when it comes to children.

“Kids do get migraines. The youngest person I’ve ever seen was 18 months, but the usual age is between six and 15 years,” says consultant pediatric neurologist Dr Arif Khan, who graduated in the UK and is now based in the Middle East. where he founded the Neuropedia Center for Child Neurology.

“Migraine awareness has become so prominent among adults that we can forget about children. It’s grossly underdiagnosed.”

Do children experience the same migraine symptoms as adults?

Identifying migraine in children can be more difficult than in adults. “Typically, if you ask an adult what a migraine is, they’ll say it’s a throbbing on one side of their head, and you might associate it with vomiting or nausea, extreme sensitivity to bright lights or loud noises,” Hahn says. . “A child may not have a textbook description of a migraine. They may just say they’re very tired, they have a headache — they often can’t verbalize what’s going on.”

Dr. Juliana VanderPluim, an assistant professor of neurology at the Mayo Clinic in Phoenix, Arizona, who has extensively researched childhood migraines, says there are differences and similarities, but even children can show signs that it’s not a regular headache.

“Like adults, migraines in children and adolescents are often moderate to severe in intensity, throbbing in nature, and can be aggravated by physical activity,” she says. “Children may experience more headaches on both sides of the head (bilateral) compared to adults, where migraines are often unilateral (unilateral). Children and teenagers can also have shorter migraine attacks lasting just a couple of hours, while adults usually have attacks lasting more than four hours.

“To be diagnosed with migraine in adults, they must report sensitivity to light and sound and/or nausea or vomiting. But in children, given that they cannot describe sensitivity to light and sound, it can be done from their behavior.” For example, do they avoid places and activities with bright lights and sounds? Do they rest more?

Although migraines are not always severe, they can be just as debilitating for children as they are for adults. As VanderPluim says, “Migraine can cause significant disability in children and adolescents. It can affect social and family relationships, and lead to absenteeism and absenteeism from school, extracurricular and recreational activities.”

Why do some children get migraines?

There is no unequivocal answer. But VanderPluim says, “Migraine is a neurological disorder that we believe has a genetic basis, and its manifestation depends on environmental factors [triggers]. For this reason, migraines tend to run in families, but don’t necessarily look the same for everyone.

“With the exception of a few rare forms of migraine (such as hemiplegic migraine) that result from a mutation in a single gene, migraine is thought to result from mutations in multiple genes… Recent research has identified more than 50 genes that may contribute .”

Hahn describes migraines as a “tendency” – meaning that a person has the necessary predisposition, but the development of symptoms comes down to triggers, and this can vary. However, the fact that migraines run in families can be helpful when it comes to diagnosing the condition in very young children.

For example, with an 18-month-old child he treated: “The child was experiencing inconsolable crying and unprovoked crying fits every few hours. It wasn’t until they were 18 months old that we thought, ‘Okay, it could be a migraine.'” because they had a very strong family history of migraines,” Hahn recalls. “And once we started using the appropriate medication to help control it, it helped.”

Why diagnosis is important

Treating migraines is not necessarily the same as treating other types of headache, so getting the right diagnosis is important. This may mean asking your GP for a referral, especially if your child has frequent attacks and may need medication to stop them (Hahn explains that there are two key medication options – to prevent migraines and treatment of symptoms).

However, even when a migraine is diagnosed, Hahn does not automatically “go to treatment or medication.”

“The first thing we do,” he says, “is understand the lifestyle/environmental factors, and there are four things we focus on for parents. Number one is rest — you need to maintain the duration and consistency of sleep. If a child is 10 only six hours of sleep, which will give them a migraine. A 10-year-old wants at least 10 hours of sleep. Second, they need to drink a lot of water, try to drink at least seven to eight glasses a day – about two liters.

“Sometimes three foods can trigger a migraine. The usual culprits are the four Cs: cheese, chocolate, citrus and coffee. I always ask if they’re consuming any of these in excess. And finally, screen time. Avoid at least two hours before bedtime screens, because screens suppress the hormone melatonin, which makes you sleepy.”

Preservation of the symptom diary can help families identify specific triggers that affect their child, Hahn notes — he says it’s a good idea to bring it with you to appointments — and you can ask your doctor for advice about food triggers. “Once those things are set up, we’ll talk about medication,” Hahn says.

Stress can also be a factor – especially for teenagers. Hahn recommends keeping this in mind—for overall well-being, he believes it’s also good for kids to have enough time to switch off.

“Maybe try some relaxation techniques like meditation, screen time, and give them tips on how to calm down,” he suggests. “And I see a lot of regulated schedules; then badminton practice tennis, barely an hour a day to do nothing. We all need time to just do what we feel like doing and relax.”

Could my child have a brain tumor?

It’s also important to see your doctor so you can rule out other conditions. The possibility of a brain tumor can be a big fear for parents if their children have chronic headaches.

Fortunately, brain tumors are rare, but it’s always best to let your doctor know if you’re concerned. “One of the most common warning signs of a brain tumor in children is persistent headaches, which are usually accompanied by other symptoms such as vomiting, balance problems or vision changes,” says Dr. David Jenkinson, chief scientist at The. Charitable organization “Brain Tumor”.

“Of course, headaches are very common and it can be very difficult to distinguish the symptoms of a brain tumor from other more likely conditions such as migraines, but it is important to look out for persistent headaches that occur most often when you wake up. Children who have a headache caused by a brain tumor are likely to also experience other symptoms, such as nausea, abnormal growth, confusion, or seizures.”

A new charity, Better Safe Than Tumor, is targeting exactly this problem, and Jenkinson says its website has lots of useful tools, including a symptom checker (

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