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Migraine is a neurological condition. It causes intense throbbing pain on one side of the head that may last from hours to days, but it’s more than just a bad headache. A migraine episode might include nausea or other symptoms.

Migraine is very common. It’s estimated that 1 billion people worldwide experience migraine episodes, including 10 percent of children.

Read on to learn more about how migraine affects children and how to manage it.

Common symptoms of migraine include:

Other migraine symptoms can be different in children compared with adults. According to the American Migraine Foundation (AMF), migraine episodes tend to pass more quickly in children.

Children are less likely to experience migraine headaches on only one side of the head, which is a common indicator of migraine in adults.

Abdominal migraine mostly affects children. It’s a severe pain in the belly that can from last hours to days.

Younger children might have difficulty describing their symptoms. If you suspect your child might be having migraine attack, watch for changes in their behavior, such as:

  • avoiding screens like tablets and televisions
  • lying down in a dark room
  • sleeping at unusual times
  • loss of appetite
  • skipping activities

The cause of migraine isn’t known, but it’s believed to be a combination of genetic, environmental, and lifestyle factors.

If a child has one parent with migraine, they have a 50 percent chance of developing migraine headaches. This jumps to 75 percent if both parents are affected. A family history of migraine is also linked to earlier onset of migraine episodes.

A migraine episode can be triggered by:

Children may lack an understanding of why they are feeling pain or experiencing other symptoms of migraine. A 2021 review indicated that children with migraine may also develop mood disorders, such as:

These conditions may lead to stress, which in turn can trigger migraine episodes. If you believe your child has a mood disorder, it’s important not to ignore it.

A doctor may be able to prescribe medication or recommend age-appropriate therapy to help your child manage mood disorders.

There are a lot of options when it comes to treating migraine in children.

Some treatments can be administered at home without the use of medication. There are alternative therapies available, as well as traditional medicines to prevent and treat migraine episodes.

The most important thing is to find an effective treatment that both you and your child are comfortable using.

Home remedies

Remedies for migraine attack can be as simple as resting or having a snack.

Common supplements used to treat migraine include magnesium and riboflavin. Speak with your child’s doctor before beginning any supplements, because some products may not have sufficient research in children and could have unintended side effects.

A 2018 review found that some integrative therapies and self-regulation techniques may be effective at treating migraine in children. These can include:

Over-the-counter treatments

When using over-the-counter medications to treat migraine headaches, your child should be given medication as soon as they or their guardians realize they’re having an episode. A 2021 review states that these medications work best when combined with rest.

Keep medication out of children’s reach for safety, and supervise children when they take medication.

Over-the-counter medications used to treat migraine headaches include:

Frequent use of these medications can lead to medication overuse headaches. If your child is taking over-the-counter pain treatments more than twice per week, you may need to speak with their doctor about changing the treatment plan.

Medical treatment and prescription medication

A 2016 review found that medications for migraine can be broken into two categories. First, there are medications to deal with migraine episodes:

Second, there are medications to help prevent migraine episodes:

Professional psychological support can also play a role in treating the stress associated with childhood migraine.

A common headache doesn’t necessitate a visit to the doctor, but if your child is experiencing recurring headaches, you should speak with their pediatrician. Recurring headaches are not necessarily migraine headaches, but they should be checked out.

Headaches that present with other symptoms are also a reason to visit the doctor. Some examples of other symptoms are:

To diagnose migraine, you can expect a doctor to conduct a physical examination and take a history. Young children might need help recalling their symptoms, how long they lasted, and what events happened before the migraine episode.

Writing down the circumstances around migraine episodes is important to track the frequency and duration. This is called a headache diary. It may be helpful to bring this information to the doctor.

Migraine cannot be diagnosed through blood tests or diagnostic scans, but a doctor might use these methods to rule out other conditions that share symptoms with migraine.

If a doctor diagnoses your child with migraine, ask for a written treatment plan. It can also be helpful to schedule a follow-up appointment to evaluate whether the treatment plan is working.

Lifestyle changes may help prevent your child’s migraine episodes. These can include:

Your child might need your help sticking to these changes.

Keeping a headache diary can be a very useful tool for managing migraine. This can help you determine migraine headache triggers for your child or whether certain pain medications are effective.

A headache diary can help you track:

  • frequency of migraine episodes
  • severity
  • duration
  • amount of sleep prior to episode
  • last meal before episode
  • changes in weather
  • pain relievers taken

When migraine headaches do occur, they can be managed with general pain medications. Antiemetics, which treat nausea and vomiting, might also be useful, particularly for children. A doctor can help create a treatment plan.

It’s also important to understand the social impact that migraine might have on your child. You may want to discuss your child’s diagnosis with their teacher or school nurse, childcare provider, and even siblings.

Migraine is a common condition around the world. It affects people of all ages, but the symptoms in children can be different from those in adults. Young children may have difficulty describing what they’re feeling, so the first indication of migraine could be behavioral.

If you think your child is having migraine attack, make an appointment with a doctor. A migraine diagnosis and treatment plan can help your child to manage their episodes. Follow-up appointments may be needed.

There are many options for treating migraine in children. Keep a headache diary until you can find a treatment plan that works for you and your child.