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Your Child's Headache or Migraine

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What Causes Headaches in Children and Adolescents? continued...

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.

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.

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