Healthy Kids     Health Guide    

Is your child suffering from migraine headaches?

How to know, and what to do

Children with migraines

Migraine in children can have a major impact on their school performance, family and social lives.

The American Migraine Foundation and its Chair, David W. Dodick, MD, FRCP (C), and Phoenix Children’s Hospital pediatric neurologist/headache specialist Marcy E. Yonker, MD, want parents to know what they should look for in these areas, and how they can help their children improve their quality of life.  

Dr. Dodick is Professor of Medicine at the Mayo Clinic College of Medicine in Scottsdale, Ariz.

“Emotional and school performance problems are often issues for children with migraine. They can be as difficult for kids with migraine to manage as they are for those with other serious diseases or conditions,” Dr. Dodick says. “While migraine is well known for the severe head pain that it causes, the impact of attacks on concentration, learning and memory is often overlooked. We want parents to be alert to the warning signs, and let them know there are things they can do to minimize the negative effects of migraine on their child’s quality of life and academic performance.”

[Read more: Child Behavior: Signs of depression]


Problems in School

Missed classes, poor or failing grades and truancy can all be signs that a child with migraine is struggling academically.  When these issues arise, parents should get involved, and pay attention to their kids’ grades and attendance to help determine what the problems are.

Drs. Dodick and Yonker recommend that parents let teachers and school nurses know if their child suffers from migraine so they can work together to help deal with performance problems.   

A teacher, for instance may misinterpret a child’s migraine attack as “daydreaming” or disinterest in classwork. By recognizing migraine symptoms, the educator can better understand how to compensate for the student’s illness and know when he or she needs to see the school nurse.   

Migraine’s Effect on Friendships

Many studies show that both adults and children with migraine are stigmatized by others.  For children with migraine, this may result in bullying and shaming by those who don’t believe they have a real medical problem.  Although it may be difficult to do, parents should encourage their child to be open with their friends about migraine, and how it makes them feel.

[Read more: Peer rejection, and how you can help your child]


Migraine and Sports Participation

“Some children may not participate in sports or exercise because it triggers or makes their migraine attacks worse,” says Dr. Dodick. “This may make it more difficult to ‘fit in,’ as well as to manage their weight, and stay healthy and active.”

Dr. Dodick recommends that parents consider seeking advice from a migraine specialist to discuss treatment that may minimize the effect of exercise on migraine. Until then, he also recommends that parents support their child’s decision to opt out of sports or exercise until they find relief. If their child does feel able to take part, however, parents should encourage them to do as much as they feel comfortable with, and to monitor if and when the impact of their activity may trigger a migraine attack.

[Read more: Kids nervous about school? You can help!] 

Migraine and Home Life

Children with migraine symptoms such as sensitivity to light and sound may be irritable at home, and may withdraw to their room due to the pain.  Family relationships might also be stressed if a parent has to miss work because his or her child has a migraine attack, and siblings may resent having to modify their behavior because their brother or sister is sick with a migraine attack. 

Dr. Yonker encourages parents to have family talks about migraine to reduce sibling resentment.

Parents who have to miss work and fear loss of pay — or their job — should know that they have some protections under the Family and Medical Leave Act.  To learn more about these protections, go to this link on the Foundation’s site.

The American Migraine Foundation website has a range of resources, including the “Spotlight” feature, where migraine sufferers and the public can turn for information about living with and managing many aspects of migraine. “Spotlight” changes topics periodically throughout the year.

The current “Spotlight on Migraine in Children,” is a feature packed with information for parents and children themselves on recognizing and better managing migraine.  In addition to the topics discussed above, current Spotlight articles include “Helping Your Child Manage Migraine”; “What Triggers Migraine Attacks in Children”; “What Symptoms Should I Look for in My Kids?”; and “Barriers to Getting Help.”  Also on the site are: “Back to School with Migraine”; “Children Get Headaches Too”; “Headaches in Kids:  What Parents Can Do to Help”; “Kids with Chronic Migraine”; “Migraine Variants in Children”; “Complementary Therapies and Coping Tools for Children with Migraine”; “Never too Young for Chronic Headaches”; “New Research on Connection Between Migraine and Colic”;  “What is This Everyday Headache All About”; and “Pediatric Migraine: A Primer for Teachers and School Nurses.”  Spotlight on Migraine in Children was created with the guidance of Dr. Yonker, and features articles by a number of headache specialists and patient advocates.


About Migraine:

Some 36 million Americans live with migraine, more than have asthma and diabetes combined.  An estimated three to seven million Americans live with chronic migraine, a highly disabling neurological disorder. Migraine can be extremely disabling and costly, accounting for more than $20 billion in direct (e.g. doctor visits, medications) and indirect (e.g. missed work, lost productivity) expenses each year in the United States. 

The American Migraine Foundation is a non-profit foundation supported by the American HeadacheSociety and generous donors dedicated to the advancement of migraine research. Its mission is to support innovative research that will lead to improvement in the lives of those who suffer from migraine and other disabling headaches.