Maybe you have migraine yourself, or someone you know does. You start to wonder if your child is going through the same thing. They might be complaining of headaches, or going through cycles of symptoms that are familiar to migraine sufferers. Here are 5 things to keep in mind as you try to help your child:
1. Migraine can strike in children
More than half of the adult migraineurs (migraine sufferers) report that they had their first headache as a child. Of children with migraine, it’s estimated that about a third gets their first attack before the age of 5. We know that children as young as 2 deals with migraines, and possibly even infants, although we still don’t understand exactly how infants interact with pain.
2. Don’t assume your child is just looking for attention
Sometimes it’s hard to tell if children are really suffering, or if they’re trying to get out of something. Some children of migraineurs may simply imitate the behavior that they’ve seen in a parent. Dr. Sarah Cheyette, a pediatric neurologist and a mother herself, suggests that you not focus on the pain but tell your child they will “feel better soon”. At the same time, keep a close watch for yourself and try to see the patterns.
3. Remember that migraine is different in everyone
We’re all familiar with the headache pain that often goes along with migraines. But sometimes migraine attacks do not involve pain at all. Some people only see flashing lights. There’s nausea. Weakness. Pain in different areas, even the abdomen. Watch for overall patterns in your child that may be related. Look for times when their behavior changes. When they’re sick to their stomach. It’s up to you to watch for symptoms that your child may not even realize are there.
It was a long time before I was actually diagnosed with headaches. For a long time I just had a vague idea that I “didn’t feel well” at various times, though I couldn’t really explain it. Your child may be dealing with something similar. Write down what you observe and share it with your doctor.
4. When to contact a doctor
Contact a doctor right away if there is a sudden change in the headaches your child is experiencing. This is especially important if your child gets any of the following symptoms: stiff neck, fever, dizziness, problems breathing, blurred vision, or headaches that are made worse with exertion. Your doctor can guide you through further observation and testing.
5. Learn about the available treatments
There’s no reason to panic if you think your child may have migraines. Even if you’ve struggled with migraines for years yourself, treatments for your child may be different and more effective.
Don’t assume that your medication will work for your child. Many adult drugs have not been tested for children and are not known to be safe. The same goes for natural therapies.
However, there are very effective treatments for children. Many common painkillers may be sufficient, as long as they’re not taken too often (in many cases twice a week should be the maximum). For many, lifestyle changes can make a huge difference – more exercise, better eating habits, for example. One natural treatment that seems to work very well for children is biofeedback. When it comes to specific migraine drugs, recent trials have found certain doses of Imitrex to be helpful for children.
Children with migraines can look forward to treatments that were not even thought of ten years ago, and they live in a world where we have a far better understanding of migraines every year. Migraine does not have to ruin the life of a child but can be an important challenge that you can help them through.