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When Your Child Has a Headache

Kids and Migraines
WebMD Feature

Nov. 12, 2001 -- One day, Tyler Upchurch was just a regular kid growing up in Muskogee, Okla. The next day, things were very different.

"He woke up and said he had a really bad headache," recalls his dad, Bill. "It just came on all of sudden."

That headache lasted every single day -- every hour -- for six months.

"It was pretty scary," Tyler tells WebMD.

"You don't know what to think," says Bill. "All these possibilities run through your mind ... brain tumor, you just don't know what. It worried us to death."

They tried the family physician, the hospital emergency room, a neurologist, then a child neurologist referred Tyler to Diamond Headache Clinic in Chicago, where the boy finally got the treatment he needed.

Tyler, his parents were told, was suffering from a rare form of migraine headache.

A Migraine Pioneer

Kids, of course, will try practically anything to get out of school -- the mysterious stomachaches, etc. Even Tyler's emergency room physician didn't take the boy's headaches seriously.

And that's the way it is for many children battling migraines. Their families -- even their doctors -- "ignore the headaches as passing phases of childhood or attention-getting behavior," writes Seymour Diamond, MD, author of the newly released book Headache and Your Child.

He's considered a legend in migraine treatment. Founder and director of the Diamond Headache Clinic in Chicago -- the largest and oldest private headache clinic in the U.S. -- he is author of over 300 scientific papers and more than 20 books on headache.

Diamond has been studying migraines for more than 30 years -- and not just professionally: His two daughters developed migraines when they hit puberty; his mother-in-law also "had headaches all the time," says daughter Merle, now a neurologist and associate director of the Diamond Headache Clinic. "We were a headachy family," she says.

Back then -- in the 1960s and '70s -- migraine sufferers didn't get any respect from doctors, she says.

"Migraine was not a valid neurological complaint," she says. Even in medical school, she remembers a neurologist saying, 'Your dad takes care of crazy people.' "

"My dad has done more to open doors for migraine patients -- for all patients with headaches -- in getting proper diagnosis and treatment," she says. "He took criticism for quite a few years. He went out on a limb, said this is something real, and patients need to be respected."

The problem was, "we didn't have effective treatments," she says. "When doctors don't have effective treatments, they make it the patient's fault. They say quit your job -- you'll be OK if you have less stress in your life -- instead of recognizing it as a genetic disorder that creates disability."

Truth is, migraine is a hereditary disease; if one parent has migraines, the children each have a 50% chance having them. And if both parents suffer, a child has 75% likelihood. While gene therapy has not been developed for migraine, there are some "marvelous migraine medications," Diamond tells WebMD.

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