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Childhood Abdominal Migraine: A Real Life Example

As my daughter’s mother, I’ve had a lot of scares. There was that time she almost drowned, and the time she crashed her bike and chipped her front tooth. There were the two times she went out to play with a friend without telling me where she was going, and the one horribly frightening seizure episode that went on and on and on. So far, however, nothing has been quite as scary as the time she doubled over in pain, shrieking at the top of her lungs, and grabbing her stomach.

For a moment, I was helpless and could do little except stand there and watch her eight-year-old body writhing in fear. Tears streamed down her face, and her breathing came in ragged gasps. Her arms, wrapped tightly around her body, did little to quell the pain she obviously felt.

Finally snapping to, I loaded her into the car, and we traveled as quickly as we could to the nearest urgent care center. It took almost no time for them to see her, especially once she vomited all over the waiting room, but the doctor on staff couldn’t confirm any particular diagnosis. He recommended a trip to the children’s hospital for more extensive labs, so we packed up again and headed across town.

Hours of waiting later, we were still no closer to a diagnosis. An abdominal ultrasound failed to show an enlarged or ruptured appendix, and the doctor on call recommended against an abdominal CT scan because of the amount of radiation involved. Instead, he advised us to stay overnight and hope the symptoms went away on their own.

Thankfully, they did.

Right around four a.m., my daughter’s breathing steadied and slowed, her hands unclenched, the tears stopped, and she fell asleep. I sat, sunglasses on my face to ward off the ER-lighting-induced migraine I knew I would get, and watched her. Two hours later, they sent us home – with a prescription for anti-nausea medicine and no confirmation of what happened.

Many times over the following months and years, my daughter complained of stomach pain and nausea – both at home and at school – though no one attack was ever as painful as the first one. The symptoms typically went away after a few hours or with sleep, and they often seemed correlated with a lack of sleep, overexertion, or extra stress and anxiety.

A chronic migraine sufferer myself, I knew migraine in my daughter was a possibility, but I’d had zero experience with abdominal migraine so it didn’t come to mind. At least, not at first, not until I was discussing my and my family’s history with my own neurologist. After hearing about my daughter’s history of absence seizures and her frequent symptoms of pain and nausea, my neurologist nodded.

“Sounds like abdominal migraine to me,” she said. “I’d talk to her doctor about it.”

I took her advice, but it didn’t help. Sadly, we still don’t know very much about abdominal migraine, and I never had much luck at treating it. Thankfully, as my daughter has grown older, her bouts of stomach pain have decreased. Her experiences of more traditional migraine attacks, however, have increased. This is, according to what we do know, the course abdominal migraine typically takes and is to be expected.

I had hoped not to pass on migraine disease to my daughter, but it looks like that hope will not be realized. I can only hope at this point that my experiences with the disease will help her learn to manage hers, and that maybe in the near future we’ll have more answers, better treatment options, and – possibly – a cure. In the meantime, understanding what various migraine attacks can look like might help us all recognize the disease a little faster.

This article represents the opinions, thoughts, and experiences of the author; none of this content has been paid for by any advertiser. The team does not recommend or endorse any products or treatments discussed herein. Learn more about how we maintain editorial integrity here.


  • fuenkchen
    4 years ago

    Thank you for this article. Just like you i hoped to never pass migraines on to my daughter and when we were in hospital first for 7 weeks (sept 2014) then again for 2 weeks a bit later and again and again quite a few times over the course of half a year, nobody could tell what was wrong. Countless Xrays, scans and ultrasounds, we were even accused of malnourishing her because she had lost all appetite and became severly underweight. She was artificially fed with what i now know was one of her triggers hence the vomiting didn’t stop for weeks and kept recurring. When i came accross abdominal migraines in April last year and managed to convince the doctors to try a new approach of leaving out high fat and dairy feeds things improved. Didn’t fully go until she started having migraine preventatives (pizotifen and amitryptilline). Like your daughter she had very bad stomach pains. She was always freezing and highly irritable. Over the last 6 months she has finally gained weight and almost achieved the weight they want her to be (luckily we managed to avoid the PEG they kept talking us into), but i have to keep her away from dairy, egg white and chocolates. Sleep patterns are a must too. It is very scary especially when one doesn’t know what it is and i feel for you and your daughter. I wish one could choose what to pass on to them and what not!!

  • Sarah Hackley moderator author
    4 years ago

    That sounds like quite the ordeal! I’m glad you were able to act as your daughter’s advocate and that you managed to find a preventive strategy that works for her. That can be so hard sometimes. May you each stay as healthy as possible in the new year!

  • Theresa J
    4 years ago

    Wow! I was so excited to see this article.
    My daughter was hospitalized twice, for a week each time before we got a diagnosis of Abdominal Migraines. I, too suffer from migraines but never heard of this. This article is the first time I’ve heard of anyone else with this diagnosis. She is 20 years old now. She has had one abdominal migraine this year and also gets regular migraines as well. Nothing else, just excited when I saw the article.

  • Sarah Hackley moderator author
    4 years ago

    It’s nice to know we (and are children) aren’t alone. I’m glad you found the article worth reading. May you and your daughter have a healthy, joy-filled year!

  • Megapain
    4 years ago

    My daughter is two and will come up to me saying her bellyhurts. At first i thought it was just hungry pains or from an injury she recieved to her belly but that was many months ago. But then she started telling me at weird times. Its not screaming like your baby, she just wimpers and in a sad voice say her belly hurts then she walks away once she is satisfied that i have heard her. I feel it is weird and i have it in the back of my mind to be aware of.

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