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Your Child's Headache or Migraine

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How Are Headaches Evaluated and Diagnosed in Children and Adolescents?

The good news for pediatric and adolescent headache sufferers is that once a correct headache diagnosis is made, an effective treatment plan can be started.

If your child has headache symptoms, the first step is to take your child to his or her doctor. The doctor will perform a complete physical exam and a headache evaluation. During the headache evaluation, your child's headache history and description of the headaches will be evaluated. You and your child will be asked to describe the headache symptoms and characteristics as completely as possible.

A headache evaluation may include a CT scan or MRI if a structural disorder of the central nervous system is suspected. Both of these tests produce cross-sectional images of the brain that can reveal abnormal areas or problems.

If your child's headache symptoms become worse or become more frequent despite treatment, ask your child's doctor for a referral to a specialist. Children should be referred to a pediatric neurologist, and adolescents should be referred to a headache specialist. Your child's doctor should be able to provide the names of headache specialists.

How Are Headaches Treated in Children and Adolescents?

Your doctor may recommend different types of headache treatment. You should establish a reasonable time frame with the doctor to evaluate your child's headache symptoms.

The proper treatment will depend on several factors, including the type and frequency of the headache, its cause, and the age of the child. Treatment may include education, stress management, biofeedback and medications.

  • Headache education includes identifying and recording what triggers your child's headache, such as lack of sleep, not eating at regular times, eating certain foods or additives, caffeine, environment, or stress. Helping your child keep a headache diary can help you and your child record this information. Avoiding headache triggers is an important step in successfully treating the headaches.
  • Stress management: To successfully treat tension headaches, it is important for kids and their parents to identify what causes or triggers the headaches. Then they can learn ways to cope or remove the stressful activities or events.
  • Biofeedback: Biofeedback equipment includes sensors connected to the body to monitor your child's involuntary physical responses to headaches, such as breathing, pulse, heart rate, temperature, muscle tension, and brain activity. By learning to recognize these physical reactions and how the body responds in stressful situations, biofeedback can help your child learn how to release and control tension that causes headaches.
  • Medications: There are three categories of headache medications for children, including symptomatic relief and abortive and preventive medications. Many of the drugs used to treat adult headaches are used in smaller doses to treat headaches in children and adolescents. But aspirin should not be used to treat headaches in children under age 15. Aspirin can cause Reye's syndrome, a rare, but fatal condition, young kids can get.

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