Pediatric Migraines: What Are the Signs and Symptoms?

People of all ages experience migraine, and the symptoms in children are like those in adults. As many as 5 percent of children in grade school have migraine headaches. During the high school years, about 20 percent of adolescents get migraine headaches. People with migraine often find that certain foods, situations, or environmental factors triggers migraine episodes. Identifying these triggers can often help prevent the episodes.

Symptoms of migraine in children:

  • a headache that lasts 2–72 hours
  • a headache on one side of the head
  • moderate to severe pain
  • pain that gets worse with physical activity
  • sensitivity to light or sound
  • nausea or vomiting
  • aura, sensory disturbances such as flashing lights in the field of vision that may be the first symptom

Common triggers to consider include:

  • Changes in sleep patterns: A child may have an episode if they sleep too much or too little. It may help to establish and maintain a regular sleep schedule.
  • Dehydration: Ensuring that a child drinks enough water, particularly after physical activity, may help reduce migraine symptoms.
  • Foods and drinks: Specific foods may trigger symptoms and so may eating too little. Take note of what a child has eaten on days when they have symptoms and check for a pattern.
  • Stress: Stress and overstimulation can contribute to migraine. If a child frequently feels stressed and anxious, they may benefit from having a quiet space where they can calm down. Mindfulness activities for children may also help.
  • Environmental triggers: These might include weather changes, secondhand smoke, and bright lights, including those on computer or phone screens, for example.

Not all migraine triggers are avoidable but avoiding them whenever possible may reduce the frequency of episodes.

When migraine symptoms occur, try:

  • moving the child to a quiet, darkened room
  • applying cool or warm compresses to their head
  • offering them an eye mask to block out any light if they have sensitivity to light
  • massaging any tense or sore muscles
  • encouraging the child to sleep if this helps with their symptoms

When to seek help:

Contact a doctor about a child’s migraine symptoms. They may prescribe medication to reduce the severity and frequency of episodes. It is also important that they rule out other possible causes of the symptoms. Some migraine symptoms resemble those of more serious health issues. Seek emergency medical care if a child experiences:

  • a sudden, severe headache with no other migraine symptoms
  • a headache with the worst pain that they ever experienced
  • a headache after a head injury
  • a headache and any of the following:
    • a stiff neck
    • confusion
    • a seizure
    • loss of consciousness

Speak with a doctor right away if a child has migraine symptoms alongside:

  • changes in vision, balance, or coordination
  • excessive vomiting
  • persistent pain
  • a recent change in personality or behavior

Any of the above may indicate a different underlying condition.

Enroll Now!

Preferred Research Partners in Little Rock, Arkansas is enrolling participants for a pediatric migraine clinical trial. Learn more to see if your child qualifies.