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When Your Child Has a Headache

Kids and Migraines

Does Your Child Have Migraines?

Toddlers -- even babies - can develop migraines.

"Parents look back, they realize there were symptoms," Diamond says. "But it's not until a child learns to talk -- at age 3 or 4 -- that they can express that their head hurts."

Chronic headaches restrict an adult's lifestyle -- socializing, working, eating, sleeping, sex -- causing anxiety and depression. But in children, chronic pain has more far-reaching effects on personality and skill development, he says.

"Kids don't understand what is going on, they don't know what to tell people about it," Diamond tells WebMD. "Migraine can cause depression, withdrawal, psychological problems in children."

Since headaches can develop into a chronic problem, they should be attacked medically early in life, he says. Your child may not have to take medication. "Things can be done with and without medicine," says Diamond.

Head pain in children under age 10 is likely migraine or an organic disease -- like a brain tumor, he says.

"Nobody should slight or minimize the symptoms of a child under 10 years old who complains of headache," he says, adding one caveat: "If someone in the family complains of headaches all the time, the child is probably mimicking them."

Parents must look for behavioral clues. "The child may be playing, then all of a sudden stop playing, bring his arms up to his head," he says. There may be dizziness, nausea, vomiting, carsickness.

In fact, he says, kids who suffer from carsickness -- even without headaches -- will likely develop migraines later in life.

As with Tyler, "a migraine can be severe enough that kids miss school because of it," says Diamond, and it can disrupt their daily lives, their relationships with friends.

"They invite another kid over to play, then all of a sudden say 'I can't do it today,'" he says. "They hibernate. They go to sleep."

"Food is often the trigger for a child's migraine," says Diamond, "especially cheese, peanut butter, and hot dogs."

Migraines in young children typically start at the end of the school day, he says. In adolescents, they occur at lunch time. Older adolescents -- ages 15, 16, 17 -- generally awaken with their migraine headaches.

After age 10, a child's head pain may be a tension headache rather than migraine, says Diamond.

"Children build up anxieties, tensions, frustrations easily after age 10," he says. "There are peer pressures, other factors that could cause stress. Younger children just don't have those tensions in their lives."

Until puberty, boys are more likely than girls to have migraines; when the monthly hormone shifts hit young girls, they begin having more migraines, says Diamond.

Treatments That Work

Automatic reaction for a child's headache pain: Reach for the Tylenol, Advil, ibuprofen. But parents should pay attention to how much their kids are taking, says Diamond. Too many over-the-counter headache medicines can create what's known as "rebound headaches" -- a daily headache pattern caused by caffeine in the medication.

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