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Your Child's Headache or Migraine

Kids get headaches and migraines, too. In fact, 20% of adults who suffer from headaches say their headaches started before age 10, while 50% say they started getting headaches before age 20.

 

How Common Are Headaches in Children and Adolescents?

Headaches are very common in children and adolescents. In one study, 56% of boys and 74% of girls between the ages of 12 and 17 reported having had a headache within the past month. By age 15, 5% of all children and adolescents have had migraines and 15% have had tension headaches.

Many parents worry that their child's headache is the sign of a brain tumor or serious medical condition, but most headaches in children and adolescents are not the result of a serious illness.

What Types of Headaches Do Children and Adolescents Get?

Children get the same types of headaches adults do, including tension headaches, migraines, and sinus headaches.

What Causes Headaches in Children and Adolescents?

Most headaches in children are due to an illness, infection, cold, or fever. Other conditions that can cause headaches include sinusitis (inflammation of the sinuses), pharyngitis (inflammation or infection of the throat), or otitis (ear infection).

The exact causes of migraines are unknown, although they are related to changes in the brain as well as genetic causes. For many years, scientists believed that migraines were linked to the expanding (dilation) and constriction (narrowing) of blood vessels on the brain's surface. However, it is now believed that migraines are caused by inherited abnormalities in certain areas of the brain.

Most children and adolescents -- an estimated 70% -- who have migraines have an immediate family member who also suffers from them or who did in childhood. Children and adolescents with migraines may also inherit the tendency to be affected by certain migraine triggers, such as fatigue, bright lights, and changes in weather.

Other migraine triggers can be stress, anxiety, depression, a change in routine or sleep pattern, loud noises, or certain foods, food additives, and beverages. Too much physical activity or too much sun can trigger a migraine in some children or adolescents, as well. In girls, changes during the menstrual cycle may trigger a bad headache.

Common causes of tension headaches include striving for academic excellence as well as emotional stress related to family, school, or friends. Other causes of tension headaches include eyestrain and neck or back strain due to poor posture. Depression may also be a reason your child is having headaches.

When tension headaches worsen over time and occur along with other neurological symptoms such as loss of vision, speech problems, or muscle weakness, they can be the sign of a more serious problem, such as:

  • Hydrocephalus (abnormal build-up of fluid in the brain)
  • Infection of the brain including:
    • Meningitis (an infection or inflammation of the membrane that covers the brain and spinal cord)
    • Encephalitis (inflammation of the brain)
    • Abscess
  • Hemorrhage (bleeding within the brain)
  • Tumor
  • Blood clots
  • Head trauma

If you suspect any of the above listed conditions, immediately take your child to his or her doctor for evaluation.

WebMD Medical Reference

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