Migraine in Children: The 4 S’s of Autumn

By 4 September 2018MAI News

Unfortunately children are not immune from migraine. It’s less common and they may suffer differently but they do get it. This time of the year can be particularly bad due to several changes, including routine, weather and school!

What Causes Migraine in Children?

First of all, no one really knows what causes migraine and why they are triggers, what is clear however is the nervous system, brain, blood vessels and gut conspire to bring on an attack. Chemical levels in the brain change and attacks are triggered.

Like adults, children can be taught to identify their triggers which are as individual to that child as spots on a leopard!

Triggers in children
  • Over- excitement
  • Skipping meals
  • Too much or not enough physical activity
  • Food (some foods)
  • Screen flicker from a computer or tablet
  • The Four S’s of Autumn Migraine – September – School – Sleep – Stress

Think about it – It’s September, the weather will change soon, School is looming large or has already loomed, Sleep patterns are changing and we’re back to the morning Stress of getting everyone up, fed and out for the day.

How does it manifest in children?

Migraine – a condition affecting about 10% of all Irish children – is both misunderstood and under-diagnosed. The reason for this low level of diagnosis may be that migraine in children does not always include a headache, the most commonly recognised symptom of the condition. Instead, children can present with a group of symptoms that don’t include headache at all but range from stomach ache to dizziness to nausea and vomiting. These symptoms are collectively known as Childhood Periodic Syndromes.

  • Abdominal migraine is one such syndrome. The pain can be dull, sore or intense and is usually located around the middle of the abdomen in the navel area. This pain can be accompanied by the more typical migraine symptoms including a throbbing headache, sensitivity to light, noise or smells and visual distortions.
  • More uncommon migraine symptoms such as fatigue, mood changes, loss of appetite, flushing, motion sickness and dark shadows under the eyes can also be present. Something to look out for is travel sickness – this can be a sign of migraine in a child.
  • Cyclic vomiting syndrome is another disorder which afflicts young children, particularly those in the age 3 to 7 bracket. It is characterised by recurrent, prolonged attacks of severe and unexplained nausea, and vomiting. Vomiting occurs at frequent intervals – five to 10 times an hour at peak – and lasts from a few hours to 10 days. There is a complete resolution of symptoms between attacks and episodes tend to be similar in terms of symptoms and duration.
  • In toddlers, the most common syndrome is Benign Paroxysmal Vertigo. This consists of sudden bouts of vertigo and dizziness without hearing loss or with tinnitus. The spells can last from minutes to hours and resolve spontaneously. Nausea, vomiting, visual disturbances and flushing can also occur.
  • In adults a migraine attack can last for up to four days with a throbbing headache on one side of the head. However, in children, attacks are generally shorter – less than 24 hours – and the headache is likely to be present on both sides.

So what can you do to help your child to either avoid or cope with migraine, and indeed to keep yourself and the rest of the family migraine-free?

Tips for the whole family;

  • Give yourselves plenty of time to shower, shave and shovel breakfast into you to avoid the morning mayhem
  • Get enough sleep and keep a consistent sleep pattern (even on weekends)
  • Do as much as possible the night before to prepare for the day ahead
  • Always eat breakfast and never skip a meal, or if you think you’re going to skip lunch, bring along some healthy snacks
  • Drink adequate amounts of water throughout the day
  • There’s not a lot you can do about the September weather, but you can be as prepared as possible by keeping all necessary medications handy and ready to use
  • Limit exposure to triggers, keep a diary to try to find them or use a migraine app like Migraine Buddy to help track triggers and patterns in your attacks
  • Exercise daily, even a walk around the block may be beneficial

Tips for parents of children with migraine – including all of the above tips;

  • Talk to the school and/or teacher about your child’s migraine and tell them what needs to be done during;
    • Class time
    • P. E. time
    • Before sports
    • On outings.
  • Give them our leaflets to look at, we’ll be happy to send them to you
  • Ask them if they have a room that can be darkened or made comfortable for your child should a migraine attack begin. Sometimes a 15 minute nap can be all that’s needed to keep a child in school
  • If your child suffers chronically, have a GP’s note on the child’s file with information on the disorder and their medication
  • Have a homework plan and leave plenty of time for breaks if necessary
  • Ask teachers to;
    • Limit time at the computer in the classroom or on tablets
    • Allow a snack and water to be taken in class
    • Allow a break if necessary
  • Check out the State Examinations Commission to see about Reasonable Accommodations for the state exams and Dare or Ahead for college and onwards
  • Have your child keep a diary and keep one yourself with them, this can serve as both encouragement for the child, and may allow you to note something they might miss

Tips for Children;

  • Keep your migraine diary
  • Try to keep calm during tests in school
  • Make sure you drink plenty of water
  • Ask your teacher to open or close a window if it’s too hot or cold
  • If the lights are too bright, ask the teacher to turn them off
  • If you need a break, ask your teacher – he/she should be aware that you might need it

For information on all of the above check out the links below…

You can explore our website further here;

Children can explore our children’s section here;

The Migraine Trust in the UK has a great section for parents and carers of children with migraine;

Followed by a section for young sufferers;