What Are Abdominal Migraines?

Abdominal migraines aren't headaches. As their name suggests, they make your belly ache instead. But they often happen as a reaction to the same triggers as migraine headaches. They can hurt a lot and cause nausea, cramps, and often vomiting.

Kids whose family members get migraines are more likely to get abdominal migraines. About 2 in 100 children do; they're rare in adults. More girls get them than boys.

And kids who have abdominal migraines typically get migraine headaches when they get older.

Causes and Triggers

We don't know their exact cause. One theory is that changes in the levels of two compounds your body makes, histamine and serotonin, are responsible. Experts think that being upset or worried can affect them.

Foods such as chocolate, Chinese food with monosodium glutamate (MSG), and processed meats with nitrites might trigger abdominal migraines.

Swallowing a lot of air may also trigger them or set off similar tummy symptoms. It can cause bloating and trouble eating.

Symptoms

It will hurt in the center of your child's body or around their belly button (not their sides), what doctors call midline abdominal pain. Your little one could also:

  • Feel queasy or throw up
  • Be pale or flushed
  • Yawn, be drowsy, or have little energy
  • Lose their appetite or be unable to eat
  • Have dark shadows under their eyes

Abdominal migraines are often sudden and quite severe. They can hit without any warning signs. The pain may go away after an hour, or it may last as long as 3 days.

Diagnosis

It can be hard to diagnose them because kids have trouble telling the difference between an abdominal migraine and ordinary stomachaches, stomach flu, or other problems with their belly and guts.

Because abdominal migraines tend to run in families, the doctor will ask about relatives who have migraine headaches.

Then he'll try to rule out other causes for stomach pain. And he'll see how closely your child's symptoms match a specific list that migraine experts have come up with.

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Treatment

Sometimes, simply knowing what the problem is makes it easier to deal with.

Because we don't know much about abdominal migraines, doctors may treat them like other migraines. But they usually don't prescribe drugs unless the symptoms are very bad or happen a lot.

Medications like rizatriptan (Maxalt) and sumatriptan (Imitrex), called triptans, haven't been approved for children, though older kids may have luck taking sumatriptan as a nasal spray.

Prevention

With their parents' and doctor's help, kids with abdominal migraines may be able to figure out what triggers them. Keep a diary: Note the date and time they get it, what foods they had eaten earlier, what they were doing before it happened, if they took any medication recently, and if there's anything going on in their lives that could be making them stressed or anxious.

If a food triggers abdominal migraines, they can try to avoid eating it. But that may not work for everyone.

Some drugs may lessen how severe episodes are or how often a child gets them.

Kids who have abdominal migraines should eat a nutritious diet with plenty of fiber. Other healthy habits, like daily exercise and getting enough sleep, and teaching them how to manage their emotions and deal with problems, can help, too.

WebMD Medical Reference Reviewed by Neil Lava, MD on July 15, 2016

Sources

SOURCES:

FDA: "Managing migraines."

eMedicineHealth: "Migraine Variants."

The National Migraine Association: "What is abdominal migraine?"

Neurology Channel: "Migraine Headaches."

National Headache Foundation: "Abdominal Migraine."

MedicineNet.com: "Migraine Headaches."

International Headache Society ICHD-II: "Abdominal Migraine Diagnosis."

Scicchitano, B. Dovepress, published online Aug. 7, 2014.

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