Migraines in Children & Teens

Reviewed by: HU Medical Review Board | Last review date: November 2010 | Last updated: May 2020

How common are Migraines in Children?

Almost 9 percent of American children 5 to 13 years old suffer from migraines. In fact, migraines are more common in children than regular headaches caused by tension. Compared to migraine, tension headaches are more common in adults. However, because migraines are often very hard to diagnose, only about 20 percent of children had been diagnosed by a doctor. Talking to children and teens about their symptoms can help when planning to meet with a doctor for the child's visit.

Half of all adults who suffer from migraines first experienced migraine pain before they turned 12.

A study at the University of Alabama in Mobile found that migraines in children didn’t last as long as they did in adults. The pain in kids appears to occur rapidly, become intense quickly and typically last between one hour and three days. Children more often had pain all over their heads, instead of on one side - which is more common in adults. Young people also complain of abdominal pain and motion sickness - which might be a sign of abdominal migraine in children. Abdominal migraine, often a precursor to migraines, happens frequently in toddlers, children and teenagers.

Migraine and Adolescents

Teens with migraines are more common than younger children with migraines. One migraine study found that less than 4 percent of 5 year old children have migraines. That percentage increases to 19.1 percent in 12 year olds and drops to about 14 percent of 15 year olds. Other migraine studies show that 2 percent of children ages 7 and under have migraines, compared to 7 percent to 10 percent of children closer to 15 years old.

Missed School

Children with migraines miss an average of almost eight school days per year, double the amount missed for children without migraines. School policies may also make it difficult to manage and treat migraines while in school. Being prepared with the appropriate paperwork may help you manage these challenges in school or college.

Migraine Symptoms in Children

Migraine symptoms in children and migraine symptoms in teenagers are similar to those found in adults.

Children with migraine complain that:

  • their head throbs
  • they feel motion sickness
  • pain worsens with bright lights and loud sounds

Studies show that migraines impact children’s quality of life, similar to other chronic diseases.

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How many days of school has your child missed in the last year because of migraine attacks?

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