Yes, Kids Can Have Migraines

Although most people think of Migraines as not starting before the teen years and ending in late middle-age years, Migraines can and do occur outside of that age range. Even children who are too young to talk can have Migraines. At that age, Migraine is diagnosed by parents carefully observing and reporting symptoms to their child’s doctor. It’s also important that doctors be informed of any family history of Migraines, “sick headaches,” and sinus headaches. We need to remember that Migraine is under-diagnosed, and people who have them only occasionally may never report them to their doctors or discuss them with their doctors. True sinus headaches usually occur only in the presence of a sinus infection, and 90% of what people think are sinus headaches are really Migraines. 1

The Migraines children and adolescents have can have differences from those of adults…

Children are more likely to have abdominal Migraine than adults. Abdominal Migraine is a form of Migraine seen mainly in children. It’s most common in children ages five- to nine-years-old, but can occur in adults as well. Abdominal Migraine consists primarily of abdominal pain, nausea, and vomiting. It was recognized as a form of Migraine disease as links were made to other family members having Migraines and children who had this disorder grew into adults with Migraine with and without aura. Most children who experience abdominal Migraine eventually develop Migraine with aura and/or Migraine without aura.

There can be some differences between adults and children in Migraine with aura and Migraine without aura:

  1. In children, attacks may last 1—72 hours.
  2. The headache of a Migraine attack is commonly bilateral (on both sides) in young children; an adult pattern of unilateral pain usually emerges in late adolescence or early adulthood.
  3. In young children, photophobia and phonophobia may be inferred from observing their behavior.
  4. The headache of a Migraine attack is usually frontotemporal (front and sides, toward the front, of head). Occipital (lower back of the head) headache in children, whether unilateral or bilateral, is rare and calls for caution in diagnosing as many cases are attributable to structural lesions.

Trigger identification and management:

Trigger identification is a vital part of Migraine management for all Migraineurs, regardless of age. Some triggers can be avoided, thus escaping any Migraines precipitated by them, but we have to identify them. A Migraine diary is an excellent tool for helping adolescents, parents, and doctors identify those triggers.

Treating Migraine in children:

For acute treatment (treatment used when a Migraine occurs), there are fewer options for children. This is primarily because researchers don’t want to “experiment” with children, so far fewer clinical trials are conducted with them. Of the Migraine abortive medications — triptans such as Imitrex, Maxalt, Zomig, etc., and ergotamines such as DHE 45 and Migranal Nasal Spray — only one is approved for adolescents. Axert (almotriptan), a triptan, was approved by the FDA for adolescents 12- to 17-years-old in 2009. Some doctors prescribe triptans for younger children after discussing options with parents.

As with adults, preventive treatment may be appropriate if a child or adolescent experiences three or more Migraines a month or if their Migraines are very severe. Several types of medications may be used — beta blockers such as propranolol; Periactin, technically an antihistamine; anticonvulsant medications such as Depakote and Topamax; and others. Doctors should be willing to discuss the various options with parents and include parents in deciding which medications to try. Parents should not hesitate to tell doctors if they are uncomfortable with certain medications.

Migraine is a genetic neurological disease that has no respect for age. Migraines do not, however, need to dominate or disrupt the lives of children and adolescents. By working with their doctors, and by consulting a Migraine specialist if necessary, proper management can help control the disease rather than the disease controlling children and adolescents — or adults.

This article represents the opinions, thoughts, and experiences of the author; none of this content has been paid for by any advertiser. The Migraine.com team does not recommend or endorse any products or treatments discussed herein. Learn more about how we maintain editorial integrity here.
View References
Platform Presentation. 46th Annual Scientific Meeting of the American Headache Society (AHS). June, 2004. • International Headache Society. "International Classification of Headache Disorders, 2nd Edition" (ICHD-II), First Revision. May, 2005. • Press Release. "Almotriptan (Axert®/Almogran®) approved by the FDA for the treatment of migraine in adolescents." Barcelona. Almirall. June 3, 2009.

Comments

View Comments (31)
  • Amber Stidam Grzyb
    7 years ago

    With my 7 year old it seems the most common trigger is unfortunately the school lights and the noise from the kids screaming especially in the mornings. He complains the bus can also be loud causing headaches to start up which don’t take long to turn into migraines. Often he throws up or feels like he is going to. He cries he is in so much pain. Tylenol and Motrin do not help any of the pain. Caffeine use to help but hasn’t helped lately. Sometimes it will start on one side of the head (most recently left side) and spread across the front. Sometimes he gets fevers with them as well. He will often have to lay down and avoid light and most noise during the active migraine. Makes it hard for him being only 7 and wanting to be at school with his friends but suffering in pain 2 to 3 days a week or more.

  • Shirley Richens
    7 years ago

    I am 76 and still experiencing migraines. Suffered since I was 10.

  • Terri Chauvin-Hedges
    7 years ago

    We just found out that our 14 month old suffers from BPT (we have been in pt since sept treating torticollis but turns out that it’s BPT. Anyone going through this? She doesn’t have seizures just the tilt right now.

  • Terri Chauvin-Hedges
    7 years ago

    Benign Paroxysmial Torticollis

  • Joyce Cranick
    7 years ago

    what does BPT stand for?

  • Walter Flesner III
    7 years ago

    Excellent Migraine summary!

  • Carol Richards Peske
    7 years ago

    interesting…erich was having a lot of migraines and cutting out sugarless gum with Sorbitol has almost stopped them…

  • Tammy Mueller-Bisping
    8 years ago

    Thanks to all of you for your stories. My 7 year old just threw up and is (passed out) asleep on the couch. We have been to the doctor, as this has been happening alot lately. Doctor thinks it is probably sinus/allergies but my motherly instinct makes me wonder if it is migraines. I don’t get them, but both of my parents did. It breaks my heart to see him cry and hold his head and he ALWAYS vomits with these headaches. Again thanks!

  • Hazel Caauwe
    8 years ago

    that is how my son started with them. Family dr. called them migraines at about the age of 3 years. No meds offered. Eventually he would sleep it off, NOT fun.

  • Tammy Mueller-Bisping
    8 years ago

    Thanks! I really appreciate the advice. We will keep looking for answers and solutions. Didn’t think kids could get migraines.

  • Melissa Schmitz
    8 years ago

    Keep pressing the docs, unless you get one that suffer themselves they don’t really know how to help. Both Matt & I suffer with them so here’s a few home remedies til you get some answers….ice pack on back of neck for 20 mn or so, heat pack on shoulders or between shoulder blades (to relax), quiet dark room to lay down, relaxation massage around base of neck and shoulders and/or face.(I take 500mg Aleve also but that’s too much for Nicholas maybe a lower dose would work for him?) Hopefully you can get some answers from a doc and get meds on board if needed, they really help too. Good luck!

  • Patti Skrdla
    8 years ago

    Sounds like a migraine to me. The poor thing. They are wicked!

  • Elyssa Blumenthal Olgin
    8 years ago

    I’ve had migraines since I was a child. I used to have to lay down in a quiet room, usually after I threw up, until I fell asleep and then I’d be fine. As an adult, I still have the migraines, they’re just a bit more complicated. My son is now 10 and gets them, he takes Tylenol, Motrin or Benadryl as an abortive and Cyproheptadine as a preventative. I remember his first few headaches at age 4, I felt so guilty, like I gave this to him. I know it’s genetic and also out of my control but it’s awful to watch him suffer…

  • Elyssa Blumenthal Olgin
    8 years ago

    Brett has a fabulous sense of humor, don’t know if I can fully claim it. ;). Zack does have my photographic memory, though.

  • Amy Forman-chalfin
    8 years ago

    yuck. I’m sorry your sweet boy inherited that. so did gman. Did he at least get your sense of humour

  • Becky Hornbeck Hague
    8 years ago

    I can’t “like” this, but I totally understand….while not as severe as yours, my kids also inherited migraines (from me) fortunately, once we went to gluten free and raw onion free diets, we seldom have them anymore!

  • Christina Woodworth
    8 years ago
  • Christina Woodworth
    8 years ago

    Our Son has a rare migraine condition that started when he was ONLY 2 Months old with symptoms. The Condition is called Benign Paroxysmal Torticollis (BPT). It was very scary for us, in the beginning. Most Pediatricians, and even some neurologists, have never heard of this condition, which is why it is so difficult to get a diagnosis. BPT can have many symptoms, Such as:
    Banana Shape every few weeks when the Vomiting Episode would come on.
    Trasitioning Head tilts every few weeks. (He would tilt to the right for about 1 week and 1/2, then, straighten his head for about a week or so, and, then, trasition to the other side for a week and 1/2. He would usually have the painful vomiting episode on the 3rd day of the tilt. He would vomit with such painful cries, pass out, wake-up look tilted, vomit again, and repeat the vomiting for 9-15 hours. My poor little guy would look very dizzy (eyes rolled) and pale and would have his head stuck to his shoulders the whole time during the episode. The vomiting episodes were every 3.5 weeks and we could track them on a calendar. The rest of the time when he was tilting, he was just a happy little baby, even when he had a slight tilt.)
    Low-muscle tone – had trouble sitting up, crawling and walking.
    Verigo/balance issues
    He had Normal MRI and EEG results.
    He is 2 & 1/2 now and just had an episode last Sunday. He is on Periactin for his migraines, which helped take them away for 10 months (although he would still get a slight head tilt from time to time, but no pain or vomiting). He has begun to have the vomiting episodes, again, since the really hard winter came on…we do believe weather plays a factor now that he is older. His episodes, thankfully, though are getting much shorter and he does not vomit as much as he did when he was really little. It seems as though his body is starting to, unfortunately, resist the Periactin the past few months…Even though we have Increased the dosage, it is not working for him like it used to (However, I know of one little boy that it is, definately, still been working for, for over a year and 1/2 now…So, I think it is based on the child).
    Thankfully, it is reported that children, who suffer from Benign Paroxysmal Torticollis, will start to grow out of the condition by age 3. Although, I am hearing about more and more cases of older children, who are still suffering from occasional migraines or cluster headaches. I do hear that the Head tilt tends to go away by age 3, though. My little guy still gets the tilt (much slighter as he is getting older though). I do feel that he will may always have issues with migraines/headaches/or vertigo when he gets older. But, I hope that the head tilt part and, occasional balance issues, will start to go away all-together.
    My Question is (and I plan on asking this of our Neurologist, as well soon): What other Medications are Safe for him to take at only 2 & 1/2? Is Periactin the only one…or, are there other SAFE options? Thank You Ver Much for your time.

    Here is a link, if you are interested in learning more about Benign Paroxysmal Torticollis:
    http://www.facebook.com/#!/group.php?gid=101155666598087

  • Brenda Martel Sylvestre
    8 years ago

    I had them since I was 12 and still do as a adult , My son is 9 and has alot of headaches too, probaly will have them like me for the rest of life! not fun!

  • Traci Ruff Sheppard
    8 years ago

    I have a son who has migraines since he was 16yrs old and he’s now 21yrs old and still has the migraines…. He has them almost on a daily bases… We’ve tried the topamax, depakote, etc. But most of them are where you take them on the on set of the attack, but his problem is that he will get the migraines in his sleep and so, when he wakes up, it’s already at a full blown attack. He doesn’t like the way the other meds makes him feel. He feels like his brain is in a *fog* and since he’s in college he can’t feel like that…. What else can he do?

  • Kristen Fitzgerald
    8 years ago

    I have had migraines for as long as I can remember (and probably before), since age 4…I would get them weekly and school (stress) was often a trigger, as well as many foods I’m sure – but at the time there was so little info out there, I didn’t figure that out until adulthood, on my own. The pediatrician just told my mom to give me aspirin..which didn’t work….I would usually get them so bad I would eventually vomit. EVERY WEEK. I missed a lot of school…still managed to get straight A’s most of the time. I remember my mom getting upset with me for getting migraines! At my 6th grade dinner I had one & had to run to the bathroom to vomit, then had to leave, and my mom was yelling at me, like I was doing it on purpose? I realize now that she was probably just upset & frustrated that she couldn’t help me….In middle school I remember going to the nurse with a migraine before gym class – I knew I couldn’t participate…she must have thought I was faking to get out of gym, it was last period (ridiculous & I was in good physical shape, petite & probably 80 lbs at that time!) – she sent me back and said I had to “play” – I changed into my uniform, stood there for a minute (volleyball) and class was over – I had to vomit after all that and ended up missing the bus! I was very shy & quiet back then but I do remember being so angry with that nurse..I went back & told her what happened, she must have felt bad because she ended up giving me a ride home. Anyway, my point with all this is that migraines in children werent taken seriously then…I hope things have changed!

  • Migraine.com
    8 years ago

    Teri Robert provides an excellent overview of migraine in children, including common symptoms, triggers, and treatment options.

  • Tami Wright Junt
    8 years ago

    duh! this is news how?

  • Migraine Support Group
    8 years ago

    There has been some research linking migraines in children with congenital heart defects. Worth checking out.

  • Jake Baird
    8 years ago

    I’m almost 21 and have had them since I was 12 years old in seventh grade. They are technically cluster headaches but I think the same point stands.

  • Stacie Hallford Clark-Benson
    8 years ago

    My 1st one was when I was 5 & continued all throughout childhood & I still have them. 3 of my 6 children also have them & 1 of them started much younger then I was.

  • Beth Comstock McLain
    8 years ago

    I had them as a child and still do as an adult. My daughter is 6 and has lots of headaches too. of course, can’t know if they are migraines yet as she can’t tell

  • Teri-Robert author
    8 years ago

    Ellen,

    Although Periactin and Benadryl are both antihistamines, there’s something in their pharmacokinetics that makes Pericactin a good preventive for some people, but not Benadry.

    I’ve talked with several parents whose children were helped by using Periactin for prevention; a few adults too.

    Take heart, Ellen. Already, I see things are so much better for our grandchildren who have Migraines than they were for me as a child. 🙂

  • Ellen Schnakenberg
    8 years ago

    Teri,

    Geesh, Periactin was given to us not as a preventative, but to take when the Migraine hit. Maybe the doctor didn’t understand how it was supposed to be given. That’s sad for us though, if it could have helped as a preventative it might have saved us so much heartache.

    Do you see a lot of parents having luck with it? Benadryl was already a big part of our lives due to the serious allergy situation. Periactin and Benadryl is prescribed to be taken together?

    I pray that someday when my kids have their babies, maybe this will be behind us. At least we’ll have better resources and be better prepared than the old days…

  • Teri-Robert author
    8 years ago

    Ellen,

    Thanks!

    Isn’t it horrid when our children have Migraines? Four of our grandchildren have them. Alexandra had her first at 2-1/2. UGH!

    On the abortives and kids. There is only one abortive FDA approved for use under 18. Axert is approved for kids 12 – 18. Some doctors do prescribe triptans off-label for younger kids, but I don’t think I’ve seen that for kids under 8 or 9. Doctors will often suggest something that makes kids sleepy, sometimes children’s Benadryl, because deep sleep is a natural abortive. For preventives, Periactin is pretty commonly used in kids. Sometimes beta blockers too. Any preventive used for kids is used off-label. Nothing has been FDA approved for Migraine prevention in kids.

    There’s a problem with researching meds and kids. People are reluctant to do clinical trials with pre-teen kids, partly because of the risks, and partly because it’s hard to get good data because younger kids don’t understand things well enough to participate well in reporting. When I look through Migraine clinical trials, there are usually some enrolling teens, but seldom any enrolling younger kids.

    I totally agree with you on being glad that our children and grandchildren have more options than we did!

  • Ellen Schnakenberg
    8 years ago

    Oh Teri, I’m so glad you wrote about this. I know it will help many parents who struggle with this in their family.

    I’ll never forget my son’s Migraines. He wasn’t even a year old when they began, and they were truly terrible. This was many years ago, and little was offered to us to help him. It was so awful to listen to him scream when there was nothing I could do for him but hold him and try to help him sleep.

    I’m wondering – is there much difference in the effect of preventives or abortives on very young children? babies? What about the treatment of babies – is there research showing it is safe to use Triptans or some of these other medications, or are they usually being used off label in hopes of getting attacks under control?

    We were given Periactin, which did *sometimes* help to get him to sleep which would often end the attack, but that was essentially it. Finding out later that many of his Migraines were triggered by his very serious allergies did help us in the way of prevention, but honestly, once an attack hit, there was little we could do but hang on and pray. Now that he is getting married and considering starting his own family soon, I am so thankful there do seem to be options that weren’t being used (enough?) 25 yrs ago…

    Thanks again,

    Ellen

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