Understanding Migraines in Children: Signs, Symptoms & Treatment - MetroFamily Magazine
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Understanding Migraines in Children: Signs, Symptoms & Treatment

By Bethany Children's Health Center

Reading Time: 3 minutes 

People with migraines often suffer in silence and darkness, both literally and figuratively. That goes doubly for children.

The often misunderstood disorder isn’t a simple headache, something we all deal with now and then. Its treatments can be far removed from taking an over-the-counter painkiller and shaking off the pain. For many Americans who have regular migraines, they’re life-changing and disabling. And children aren’t immune from migraines, even if they often show different signs and symptoms than adults.

What is a migraine?

The American Migraine Foundation calls the neurological disorder the third most common disease in the world, one that affects one in four U.S. households. That’s 39 million Americans, according to the foundation.

Symptoms are different for every person. Some experience light sensitivity, “aura” and extreme pain, the typical symptoms often thought of regarding migraines. Others, according to the foundation, experience body chills, fatigue, nausea and vomiting. Migraine attacks are complex and can last from hours to days. The cause, according to the National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke, is the improper activation of nerve fibers within the walls of certain blood vessels in the brain.

Treatment for migraines can be as varied as the symptoms and people who have them. While no one-stop diagnostic test or silver bullet pill for treatment is available, options are available for sufferers, and researchers are adding to doctors’ arsenals.

Identifying and treating children who experience migraines

When children have migraines, their symptoms are often different from adults. Some have no headache but instead experience abdominal pain that lasts for days. Others have recurring gastrointestinal problems, vomiting or extreme vertigo. Teenage girls’ migraines may be tied to their menstrual cycles.

Regardless of the cause of a child’s migraines, it’s important to recognize the unique symptoms a child may show and the critical lifestyle modifications the parent of a migraine-suffering child can make.

Pediatric Neurologist Dr. Deepti Chrusciel knows firsthand the difficulties migraines cause. She has suffered from them herself. And she regularly treats children with migraines in her practice at Bethany Children’s Health Center. She has overseen pediatric neurology at a large academic medical center and conducted research into migraine care and pediatric pain.

“I can appreciate the toll migraines take on one’s quality of life,” said Dr. Chrusciel. “For children and teens, migraines affect performance in school and function in the home setting. Optimizing migraine control contributes to improving all of these.

Dr. Chrusciel recommends creating an action plan when dealing with migraines in children. She said migraines are especially common among adolescent girls. (Overall, women are much more likely to have migraines than men.) Common triggers include dehydration, poor sleep, erratic eating schedules, overconsumption of caffeine and lack of physical activity – many of which occur frequently for teens already.

As for how to prevent migraines, Dr. Chrusciel offers this advice: “Ensure that fluid intake is adequate, as not drinking enough water is a common reason for migraines to be triggered. Eat meals and snacks at regular frequencies. Getting a good night’s sleep and treating any variables that prevent this can be very effective. Maintaining good stress coping skills, getting regular exercise and limiting caffeine are also helpful.”

Deepti Chrusciel, M.D. is a Child & Adolescent Neurologist with Bethany Children’s Health Center. She holds a certification in neurology with special emphasis in child neurology from the American Board of Psychiatry and Neurology and belongs to the Child Neurology Society, American Headache Society, American Academy of Neurology and Children’s Tumor Foundation. She earned her bachelor of arts degree in biology, with a minor in global studies, from Drury University and earned her doctorate and completed her residency at St. Louis University. In addition to treating patients who experience migraines, Dr. Chrusciel treats patients with other neurologic needs, such as epilepsy, developmental delays and cerebral palsy. 

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