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8/3/21 blog post

is migraine just another word for headache?

Headaches and migraines can happen to anyone, at any age, including young children. Not only that but the intricacies and symptoms of migraines are different in children than in adults. Debra O'Donnell, MD, a pediatric neurologist at Dayton Children's sat down with us to talk about migraines and what you can do to help your child. Watch the full interview below or read through the blog for her insights! 


headaches vs. migraines 


what is a migraine and how is it different from other headaches?

Migraines are a very specific type of headache. It can stop you in your tracks and prevent you from completing tasks. In most instances, migraines have similar characteristics to headaches. In general, the pain can be isolated to one side of the head or it may be felt on both sides. Kids usually describe migraine pain as pounding, throbbing or pulsing rather than tightness or squeezing which is more common with tension headaches. Migraines can also cause nausea or vomiting, as well as sensitivity to light and sound.

can migraines start at any age?

Migraines tend to increase in frequency anywhere from 3 years of age to mid-20s. After that, migraines may become less frequent or less severe until an individual is in their 50s. Very young children are more difficult to diagnose because they don't know how to communicate their symptoms. Family history plays an important role in diagnosing these patients. So, be sure to share any family history of migraines with your child's provider.

are migraines more common in males or females?

It's equally distributed until about the age of 10. Once puberty occurs, females are more likely to experience migraines than males. Males can outgrow migraines. We know this because by the age of 40, twice as many females experience migraines compared to males.

what causes migraines?

They are typically inherited. Migraines are usually caused by genetic makeup. The risk already exists in most cases, then something may set off a reaction that is more intense than typically expected. This "trigger" can be anything from hormone changes, stress, changes in the weather to poor sleep habits, diet, dehydration, injury, illness, and environmental irritations such as light, noise and smell.

If your child gets migraines frequently, keeping a record of their sleep and eating habits can be very helpful. Over time if you keep track of those things, you may be able to see a pattern emerge. If there is a common food, activity or change in routine prior to headache onset, you might become more aggressive at trying to avoid that situation in the future. So, "preventing" migraines may be the best treatment strategy for your child.

when should you talk to your child's primary care provider about migraines?

Any headache or migraine that is interfering with your child's day-to-day activity should be brought up to their primary care provider.

If it's something that happens over the summer when they're playing really hard in the sun and more likely to become overheated; that's something you can manage through hydration and taking breaks.

If headaches and migraines are happening monthly, preventive medication is not typically prescribed. If they are occurring weekly or more often, preventive measures should be discussed.

Most primary care providers are comfortable prescribing a number of preventive medications. However, if those medications don't help your child, they may be referred to neurology for additional treatment options.

how often is a migraine a sign of something worse?

It's rare for migraines to be a sign of something more serious, but the cross-over of symptoms (headache, nausea, vomiting, dizziness, etc.) can be a concern. If a child's sleep is disrupted by headache or if they wake with a headache every morning, that is not typical of migraines and can be an indicator of something more serious.

what are the best at home remedies for migraines?

Over-the-counter medications such as Tylenol or ibuprofen are good options for children with migraines but should not be overused. If your child needs Tylenol on a regular basis preventive medicine should be considered. This will help ensure that your child does not end up with rebound or medication overuse headaches in addition to their existing migraines. Some preventive measures may include supplementing with magnesium, vitamin B2 or riboflavin. These supplements have shown to be helpful in protecting against migraines. Nothing, however, can replace a good night's sleep, eating breakfast and staying hydrated.

If your child is experiencing migraines that are interfering with their day-to-day activities, speak to their primary care provider to develop an action plan.

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Debra M O'Donnell, MD

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