What is migraine?

1 in 7 1 in 7 people overall have migraine

1 in 10 1 in 10 children have migraine

What is migraine?

Migraine is a long-term condition that affects one in seven people. Children (and adults) who have migraine experience migraine attacks which can involve a wide range of symptoms. Common symptoms of a migraine attack in children include:

  • Headache, this is sometimes on one side of the head but may also occur at the front of the head or on both sides
  • Stomach pain
  • Feeling sick or being sick
  • Sensitivity to light, sounds or smells
  • Feeling tired
  • Looking pale
  • Sensory changes such as seeing bright flashing lights, zigzag lines or spots in their field of vision

It’s important to know that

Migraine in children can look quite different from migraine in adults. In fact, many children will not experience head pain during a migraine attack and have stomach pain instead. This is known as abdominal migraine and it affects four percent of children.

If your child has regular attacks of moderate to severe stomach pain that lasts from two to 72 hours, they may have abdominal migraine. Other common symptoms include feeling sick and being sick during an attack.

Although your child may feel very unwell during a migraine attack, they will feel completely normal between attacks. An attack tends to last between four hours and three days.

During a migraine attack, your child may need to lie down and rest and take time off school. Sleep can be very beneficial to children having a migraine attack.

Postdrome stage of a migraine attack

You might also notice a pattern in their behaviour just before the main stage of a migraine attack. This is the known as the premonitory stage and you might notice that they usually have a change in their mood or a craving just before the main symptoms start.

You can read more about the different stages of a migraine attack here.

Why does my child have migraine?

We do not know exactly what causes migraine. It is thought to be the result of abnormal brain activity that affects nerve signals, chemicals and blood vessels in the brain.

We do know that migraine often has a genetic element, so children are more likely to develop migraine if they have a family member with the condition.

While we don’t know what causes migraine to happen in the brain, there will be certain factors that can make a migraine attack more likely. We call these triggers. They include:

  • Too much or too little sleep
  • Stress and anxiety
  • Skipping meals
  • Dehydration
  • Hormonal changes
  • Weather changes
  • Over-exertion
  • Tense neck muscles
  • A head injury
  • Bright lights and loud noises

Triggers can vary from person to person and avoiding them can help prevent a migraine attack. Keeping a headache diary will help you and your child’s doctor work out what factors might be triggering their attacks.

How will migraine affect my child?

The impact migraine has on your child will depend on how often they have a migraine attack. Some children might only have an attack once or twice a year, however, some children may experience attacks much more frequently such as every month or every week.

Although rare, some children can develop chronic migraine. This is defined as having a headache on 15 days each month, with migraine symptoms on at least eight of those days. Migraine and headache occurring less frequently than this is called episodic migraine.

During migraine attacks

When a child is having a migraine attack, they will need to rest. This means they will likely miss days at school and have times where they’re unable to take part in extra-curricular activities or socialise with their friends.

Impact on overall wellbeing

Feeling unwell combined with having to miss out may also affect their mental health and they might feel worried or upset about the impact of their migraine and when they might have another attack.

Getting help

It can be really hard to see your child go through this, but rest assured there are many things that can be done to help you and your child manage their condition. There are also things that their school can do to help support them with their migraine.

If your child is  aged 12 or under, click here. If your child is age 12-15, click here. If they are aged 16-18, click here.