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Children & Migraine: 11 Things Parents Need to Know

Migraine often looks so different in kids than adults that even parents who have migraine don’t realize their child’s symptoms are actually migraine. Here are some facts and information about children and migraine:

1. Many children have no head pain, but start with abdominal migraines, which include stomach pain, nausea and possibly vomiting.

2. If kids do have head pain, it is usually over their whole head, not confined to one side.

3. Fewer than half of kids with head pain describe it as throbbing.

4. Kids’ migraine attacks, whether they include head pain or not, are usually shorter than adults’ attacks. They often last only two or three hours.

5. Migraine frequency, severity and duration tend to increase as a child ages.

6. Colic and carsickness are common among kids with migraine.

7. Children’s migraine attacks can look suspiciously like an excuse to skip school. Attacks tend to become more frequent during the school year and often come on a Monday or Tuesday. Symptoms can come on suddenly and let up suddenly.

8. It’s important to get an accurate diagnosis and start a treatment plan as early as possible. This can help keep a child’s episodic migraine attacks from progressing to chronic.

9. Migraine preventives recommended for kids include amitriptyline, cyproheptadine and propranolol (and Topamax recently received approval for use in adolescents).

10. To stop a migraine attack that’s in process, the FDA has approved almotriptan for adolescents and rizatriptan for children and adolescents. NSAIDs, like ibuprofen (Advil), and acetaminophen (Tylenol) could also be effective.

11. Opioids (narcotics) should never be the first-line treatment for kids. Fioricet is rarely the best treatment option for kids and should be used sparingly in limited circumstances.

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.

  1. Kacperski, J., & Hershey, A. D. (2014). Preventive Drugs in Childhood and Adolescent Migraine. Current pain and headache reports, 18(6), 1-8.
  2. Singhi, S., Jacobs, H., & Gladstein, J. (2014). Pediatric Headache: Where Have We Been and Where Do We Need to Be. Headache: The Journal of Head and Face Pain, 54(5), 817-829.
  3. Winner P. Migraine and Headache Management in Adolescents and Young Adults. Talk presented at: Annual  American Headache and Migraine Patient Conference; November 24, 2013; Scottsdale, Arizona.


  • MahtaMouse
    5 years ago

    When my youngest was a year old, she suddenly started waking up once a month vomiting. Eventually she’d go back to sleep and when she’d wake up around noon, she’d be fine. Being a fairly new mom (her sister was a year older), I stupidly thought she was having a touch of flu (every month?!). I remember it once crossing my mind that maybe she was having migraines, but since they were different from mine… Finally one day she was verbal enough to tell me “My head feels icky” and I realized she was indeed having migraines and took her to her pediatrician. Amazingly, the month she entered kindergarten her migraines disappeared and she hasn’t had one since. My big fear though is that they might one day return should she ever become pregnant, have kids or enter menopause.

  • cindyd
    5 years ago

    This is so helpful for me. I had these symptoms as a kid and just thought I had stomach problems and at age 12 was diagnosed with peptic ulcer disease. My maternal grandfather died from complications from ulcers and my paternal grandmother had migraines. I have 2 sisters who have seizure disorders that showed up just in the last few years, one of whom has had migraines as well. I now understand that it wasn’t just a “stomachache” and was abdominal migraines. I used to curl up in a ball and make myself go to sleep and when I would wake up it would be gone. I have also always had terrible car sickness on trips which I hated!! One of the best articles I have read on here! So glad it was on here today. Very useful information. 🙂

  • Lisa Robin Benson moderator
    5 years ago

    Hi Kerrie,

    Great article. I don’t have kids but I will make sure to include this article whenever I am talking to a parent about their kid’s migraines.

    Besides the abdominal migraine aspect, this actually fits very well to what I remember as a child with migraines as far as the type and duration of pain. I’m guessing that I’m not the only one who can say I was undiagnosed and it must be harder for adults to recognize migraine in children when it can appear so different. I hope further awareness into the unique aspects of child migraine can help people get the diagnoses and treatment they need at a younger age.


  • DrDeb
    5 years ago

    Hi Lisa,
    I also had abdominal migraine symptoms and short violent headaches as a child. There was no treatment in 1950’s or 60’s that was available to me. However it is better to try cognitive and behavioral treatment rather than rely solely on Rx. This is a lifelong affliction and the sooner one learns coping skills the better.

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