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Abdominal Migraine

Abdominal migraine typically occurs in infants, toddlers, children and teens. Abdominal migraine usually happen in young people who will later experience migraine as adults. However, severe abdominal pain can occur with migraine attacks in adults as well. Sometimes they are called stomach migraine or migraine of the stomach.

Facts about abdominal migraine in children

  • Some studies estimate 1 percent to 4 percent of children suffer from abdominal migraine; while others say that about 10 percent of children experience recurrent abdominal pain at some point in childhood
  • Children with abdominal migraine usually have a family history of migraine
  • 65 percent of cases of abdominal migraine or cyclic vomiting had a family migraine history (from a study of 5,848 patients in a pediatric neurology practice)
  • Patients with abdominal migraine usually have them go away on their own within two years
  • Females have abdominal migraine more often than men
  • About half of the people who have abdominal migraine also have migraine attacks with head pain
  • One study showed that only 1.5 percent of people who suffered from abdominal migraine as children continued to experience stomach pain during migraine attacks as adults
  • Another study showed that in seven to 10 years after children were diagnosed with abdominal migraine, 61 percent had absolutely no abdominal migraine symptoms
  • Children with abdominal migraine are more likely to have mental health issues, such as anxiety as adults
  • Children with abdominal migraine more often have a mother with migraine than those with migraine that cause head pain

In the 2018 In America survey, 2,458 out of 4,356 respondents started to experience migraine symptoms prior to age 18. Over 7 in 10 of childhood migraine sufferers did not receive effective migraine medication during that time, as well as missing out on events and being viewed as faking their condition.

Adult abdominal migraine

Abdominal migraine isn’t often diagnosed in adults. Therefore, when adult men and women experience the symptoms other syndromes or disorders are considered first, such as irritable bowel syndrome, reflux or lactose intolerance. As with other types of migraine, doctors typically rule out other disorders before diagnosing migraine. Sometimes it takes years for to correctly diagnose abdominal migraine in adults.

Abdominal migraine symptoms

  • Stomach pain that isn’t in one specific spot (non-localized pain)
  • Pain is described as dull or sore
  • Nausea
  • Vomiting
  • Loss of appetite
  • General malaise, overall discomfort, uneasiness
  • Often there is no head pain, just the stomach discomfort and pain
  • Symptoms completely go away between attacks

Abdominal migraine triggers

  • Stress, positive or negative stress such as excitement before a family trip or worry over a school test
  • Car sickness
  • Fasting and skipping meals
  • Changes in sleep patterns
  • Exposure to flickering, glaring or bright lights
  • Exercise causes flare ups in some people
  • Certain foods trigger abdominal migraine such as:
    • Chocolate
    • Cheese
    • Citrus fruits
    • Chinese foods, particularly if it contains monosodium glutamate, MSG
    • Preserved meats such as hot dogs and sausages
    • Alcohol

Abdominal migraine diagnosis

The International Headache Society defines abdominal migraine as having the following characteristics:

A. At least five attacks that have the criteria, B through D
B. Pain has at least 2 of the following 3 characteristics:

  • Occurs in the middle of the body, near the navel and not confined to one spot
  • Feels dull or sore
  • Is moderate or severe

C. During the abdominal pain at least two of the following:

  • Anorexia
  • Nausea
  • Vomiting
  • Pallor, paleness or lack of color in the face

D. Attacks last 2-72 hours when untreated or unsuccessfully treated
E. Complete freedom from symptoms between attacks
F. Not caused by another disorder

As with all types of migraine, it is important to keep a migraine journal to record the how often symptoms occur, how long they last and to discover your own triggers.


Written by: Otesa Miles | Revised by: Kristine Zerkowski | Last reviewed: August 2014.
  1. Aura Symptoms & types of vision changes, Migraine in the U.S.: Epi and patterns of health care use, Neurology Lipton 2002.
  2. Headache Classification Committee of the International Headache Society (IHS). The International Classification of Headache Disorders, 3rd edition (beta version). Cephalalgia. 2013;33(9):629-808.