Childhood migraine is similar to migraine in adults, but children may have a few unique symptoms, such as pain on both sides of their head. Treatment includes avoiding triggers, medication, and other lifestyle changes.

little boy experiencing childhood migraine Share on Pinterest
Catherine Falls/Getty Images

Migraine in childhood is more common than you might think, affecting about 10% of kids. Because children can’t always describe what they’re experiencing, it can be tough to get an accurate diagnosis and proper treatment for migraine.

That’s why it’s helpful for parents to be informed about migraine in kids, such as symptoms, causes, diagnosis, and treatment options.

Read on for everything parents need to know about childhood migraine.

While a migraine attack has characteristics in common with a headache, they’re usually more intense and involve more than just head pain. Migraine attacks in children usually involve headache symptoms, along with:

  • nausea
  • light sensitivity
  • sound sensitivity
  • vomiting

Between 1% to 3% of 7-year-olds experience migraine, and 4% to 11% of kids ages 7 through 15 years old experience them.

Childhood migraine causes a lot of stress for the children who experience them. Childhood migraine is about 18% of emergency room (ER) visits among children and is a frequent cause of missed school.

The symptoms of migraine in children are similar to those in adults, with a few exceptions. For example, migraine in adults usually involves one-sided head pain, whereas migraine in children often involves their entire head, with pain centered just above their eyes. Migraine in children also lasts for fewer days than in adults. Finally, children who experience migraine are more likely to experience severe vomiting or cyclical vomiting.

According to the American Migraine Foundation, other common symptoms of migraine in children include:

  • head pain that ranges from moderate to intense
  • pain that’s either one-sided or spans both sides of their head
  • blurred vision and sensitivity to light
  • difficulty concentrating
  • dizziness or feeling light-headed
  • stomach pain
  • nausea
  • vomiting
  • fussiness, irritability, and moodiness
  • auras, which involve visual disturbances, such as seeing zigzagged lights

Children who experience migraine won’t necessarily experience all of these symptoms, and symptoms can change from one migraine attack to another. Migraine in kids may last hours or days.

Some, but not all, children will experience an aura along with their migraine. Auras can be scary because a child will have vision changes, such as zigzag lines (similar to lightning), spots, sparkles, or blurred lines. Along with the vision changes, children may experience numbness and weakness.

Auras usually happen at the beginning of a migraine episode, can last between 5 and 60 minutes, and don’t cause permanent vision damage.

Experts believe that certain children have a genetic risk of migraine, which can be triggered by certain stimuli, such as:

  • skipping meals
  • eating triggering foods
  • not sleeping enough
  • hormonal changes such as puberty

The majority of children with migraine have a family member who also experiences them. Still, the exact genetic properties that influence the development of migraine haven’t been pinpointed yet.

One type of migraine called hemiplegic migraine — migraine that can cause one-sided weakness or paralysis — has been linked to genetic mutations in CACNA1A, SCN1A, and ATP1A2.

To diagnose the type of migraine your child is experiencing, a pediatrician or neurologist may use a survey called the Pediatric Migraine Disability Assessment.

Questions asked will include:

  • How many full or partial days of school did your child miss in the past 3 months due to migraine?
  • Has migraine made it difficult for your child to function at school and home?
  • How has migraine affected other activities for your child?

After answering these questions, your child will be given a score, categorizing their migraine as mild, moderate, or severe.

Another way that childhood migraine is categorized is by whether the headaches are episodic or chronic. Episodic migraine involves migraine attacks that occur less than 15 days a month, whereas chronic migraine occurs more than 15 days a month.

If your child is experiencing symptoms of migraine, such as head pain, light sensitivity, and nausea, make an appointment to see a pediatrician or healthcare professional. They may refer you to a pediatric neurologist.

Most of the time, a migraine diagnosis is based on reported symptoms. There are no specific blood or imaging tests to diagnose childhood migraine. This can be difficult because young children can’t always describe how they’re feeling.

Keeping a diary of your child’s symptoms and discussing symptoms with your child before the appointment can be helpful so that you can fully convey what has been going on.

Besides discussing your child’s symptoms, a healthcare professional will likely:

  • take your child’s vital signs
  • conduct a thorough physical exam
  • review their medical history
  • ask you to show them where the headache pain is experienced

Rarely, additional testing may be necessary — such as an MRI — to rule out other medical conditions that might be causing your child’s headaches.

For some children, childhood migraine may be managed by recognizing triggers if present and adopting healthy lifestyle choices.

At times, medications may help your child manage or prevent their symptoms.

Avoiding triggers

Sometimes, childhood migraine is caused by certain triggers, or more than one trigger at once — a “perfect storm” of triggers, so to speak. Keeping notes about the circumstances surrounding each migraine episode can help identify if your child has migraine triggers. Record information such as:

  • What was your child eating?
  • How were they sleeping?
  • Were they stressed?
  • Were they well hydrated?

Lifestyle changes may help decrease migraine occurrences in children. These helpful lifestyle behaviors include:

  • getting enough sleep and sticking to a routine sleep schedule
  • drinking enough water
  • consuming caffeine in moderation or not at all
  • being active and getting exercise
  • eating regular meals, not skipping meals
  • avoiding foods with additives or artificial flavors, sweeteners, or coloring
  • avoiding heavily processed foods or foods that you suspect trigger migraine in your child
  • avoiding tobacco products and vaping
  • avoiding alcohol


Children who have migraine that’s chronic or interferes with their ability to function may need medication. According to the American Academy of Pediatrics, medications that are recommended for childhood migraine include:

  • over-the-counter medications such as acetaminophen, ibuprofen, and naproxen
  • triptans (selective serotonin receptor agonists), generally in teens, such as:
    • rizatriptan
    • almotriptan

Certain children are at higher risk of developing migraine, including:

  • Kids who have a family member who has migraine are likely to also experience migraine.
  • During their teen years, children assigned female at birth are more likely to experience migraine than children assigned male at birth.
  • Children who have overweight or obesity may be more likely to have migraine.
  • Among teens, there’s a link between depression and migraine.
  • Kids and teens who experienced colic as infants may be more likely to develop migraine.

Can psychotherapy help with childhood migraine?

Cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) is considered an effective way to reduce migraine in kids and teens.

Does weather affect migraine symptoms in kids?

Interestingly, when there are changes in barometric pressure, such as during storms, migraine attacks may be more frequent. Other severe weather changes, such as extreme heat, cold, bright light from the sun, and humidity, can also trigger migraine attacks in children.

Do children outgrow migraine?

About 25% of kids outgrow migraine by the time they’re 25 years old, and up to 80% of kids see improvement in symptoms by the time they’re 10 years old. Still, for many children, migraine persists into adulthood.

It can be stressful and scary if your child starts to experience migraine symptoms, especially as the symptoms often seem to come out of the blue. Always contact a pediatrician if your child experiences any new or troubling symptoms.

When it comes to migraine, there are many ways to reduce their symptoms and make your child more comfortable.