What is a Headache?

Headache, also called cephalgia, is a pain or discomfort in the head or neck. According to the World Health Organisation (WHO), it has been estimated that almost half of the adult population have had a headache at least once in their lifetime. Headaches can be caused in two ways.

1. Primary causes of headache: These are the causes that are not related to any underlying medical condition but can be due to some underlying process in the brain. Lack of sleep, an incorrect eyeglass prescription, stress, loud noise exposure, or tight head wear can be some of the primary causes.

2. Secondary causes of headache: These are caused by an underlying medical condition like tumours (a mass of tissue which is formed by abnormal growth of cells) in the brain, meningitis (infection to the layers that cover the brain), sinusitis (infection of air-filled sinus cavities), head injury and also due to overuse of certain medications like sleeping pills, pain killers, etc.

There are different types of headaches and each is triggered by various factors. Migraine headache, tension headache, cluster headache, cervicogenic headache, morning headache, sinus headache are a few examples of headaches that can affect anyone, from children to young adults and the elderly. 

Migraine is the commonest cause of headache in the world. If you are suffering from recurrent attacks of moderate to severe throbbing pulsating headache which is associated with nausea or vomiting, then you might be suffering from a migraine. It occurs not only in adults but children too have migraines.

Read on to learn more about migraine in children!

What is a Migraine?

Migraine is a neurological condition (as it affects the brain as well as nerves) that often causes intense or severe types of headache. The pain may be throbbing and can leave you incapacitated in performing your daily tasks.

There are two main types of migraine headache:

1. Migraine without aura (common migraine). Most people suffer from this type of migraine that causes a throbbing pain usually on one side of the head. The pain is moderate to severe and lasts for about 4 to 72 hours if it is not treated. 

A common migraine doesn't begin with an aura. An “aura” refers to sensations (bright spots, flashing lights, or moving lines) a person experiences before they get a migraine.

2. Migraine with aura (classic migraine). Some people with migraines get an aura for about 10 to 30 minutes before a migraine attack. 

Migraine in Children

Migraine can happen to anyone, at any age, including young children. Unfortunately, migraine often goes undiagnosed in children. 

Researchers have not fully understood the exact cause of migraine but it is said that migraine results when unstable nerve cells (trigeminal nerve, responsible for sensation in the face and motor functions such as biting and chewing) overreact to various factors (triggers). 

These unstable nerve cells send out impulses to blood vessels and cause chemical changes in the brain that results in pain.

The factors responsible for unstable nerve cells are:

  • Changes in your child’s sleep pattern

  • Dehydration (inadequate amount of fluids in the body usually due to exercise, disease, or high environmental temperature)

  • Certain foods and drinks (like alcohol, processed cheese, pizza, caffeine-containing foods, and drinks like chocolates, coffee)

  • Environmental triggers (like weather changes, watching T.V, mobiles)

  • Stress and anxiety

  • Skipping meals

How is Migraine in Children Different from Adults?

There are a few key differences between children’s migraine and those of adults:

1. Migraines in children typically occur for a shorter duration and less frequently than in adults.

2. The pain children experience tends to be more bilateral (on both sides of the head) rather than unilateral (on one side of the head).

3. While common symptoms may not be reported, a lot can be observed from your child’s behavior, such as not wanting to eat, feeling of nausea, wanting to sleep, or lying down alone in a dark, quiet room.

Not only that, but the symptoms of migraine are different in children than in adults. 

Here are some common symptoms of migraine in children.

Symptoms of Migraine in Children 

Apart from the severe pain in head which is usually at one side (can also be on both sides) of the head, your child may also  experience:

  • Nausea and vomiting

  • Sensitivity to light, sound, and odours

  • Desire to stay in a quiet dark place

  • Pain in your abdomen

  • Mood changes and irritability

How is a Migraine Diagnosed in Children?

There is no actual test to diagnose migraines. However, your doctor may examine your child and order some tests if required.

1. Medical examination: The doctor will ask about your child’s symptoms, family history, any medical conditions your child is having or has had in the past, etc. 

2. Tests: Blood tests, imaging scans, such as a Computed tomography (CT) scan or Magnetic resonance imaging (MRI), lumbar puncture (a procedure which involves the insertion of a hollow needle into your spinal canal and removal of the Cerebro Spinal Fluid (CSF) for diagnostic tests) to rule out other causes like tumours, abnormal brain structures, etc.

How is Migraine Treated in Children?

Usually, you can treat your child's headache at home by avoiding the factors that trigger a migraine. 

1. Painkillers like NSAIDs (Non steroidal anti inflammatory drugs,) antiemetics (medicines for nausea or vomiting), and medications for relieving symptoms of migraine can be prescribed by your doctor.

2. Therapies like relaxation training (such as deep breathing, yoga, meditation), biofeedback training (helps your child enter a relaxed state to better cope up with pain), cognitive behavioural therapy (helps your child learn to manage stress).

If you suspect your child is experiencing migraine attacks/headaches, it’s important to communicate with your child as well as your pediatrician/ENT. 

This can help identify the severity of what your child may be experiencing and aid in proper treatment.

Disclaimer: This article is written by the Practitioner for informational and educational purposes only. The content presented on this page should not be considered as a substitute for medical expertise. Please "DO NOT SELF-MEDICATE" and seek professional help regarding any health conditions or concerns. Practo will not be responsible for any act or omission arising from the interpretation of the content present on this page.