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Tips for Managing Abdominal Migraines

Medically Reviewed by Melinda Ratini, DO, MS on February 08, 2022

Abdominal migraine is different from most other types of migraine because a headache isn’t the main symptom. Instead, it causes bouts of stomach pain. It most often affects kids under 10. You or your child might feel nauseated and throw up during an abdominal migraine attack.

Experts don’t know what causes these serious bellyaches. Kids usually stop having them by their late teens. Many, though, go on to have migraine headaches as adults.

When you or your child has an abdominal migraine, there are things you can do to ease the symptoms. But most experts agree that the most effective tactic is to stop them from happening in the first place.

What Happens During an Abdominal Migraine?

The main symptom is a stomachache that comes and goes. It’s usually a dull soreness that starts in the center of the belly. Your child might point to their bellybutton if you ask where it hurts.

Like migraine headaches, untreated abdominal migraine attacks can last anywhere from 2 to 72 hours. Symptoms are usually bad enough that you or your child can’t do normal activities. But weeks or months may pass without any issues.

Besides pain, nausea, and vomiting, other symptoms of abdominal migraine may include:

  • Loss of appetite
  • Being sensitive to light or sound
  • Headache
  • Your child might look pale or ill

Some odd things might happen shortly before an attack. These are called prodrome symptoms, and they can include:

  • Changes in how you or your child feels or acts
  • Redness of the face
  • Diarrhea
  • Visual or speech changes
  • Numbness or tingling

How to Manage Symptoms of Abdominal Migraine

Sleep, or just resting in a dark, quiet, room, often helps when you or your child has an abdominal migraine. Turn off phones, TVs, and computer screens. They give off light that could make an abdominal migraine feel worse.

There are no FDA-approved treatments especially for abdominal migraines, but some treatments for migraine headaches can help. They include:

Over-the-counter pain relievers. Medications like ibuprofen or acetaminophen may ease belly pain, though they don’t target the cause of the migraines.

Carefully follow package directions for dosages for children. Make sure your child hasn’t taken other medications containing these drugs, like cold or allergy medicine. And don’t give aspirin to children or teens without checking with a doctor first.

If your child throws up within 15 minutes after you give them one of these medications, it’s probably safe to give them another dose. Otherwise, wait the recommended time between doses before giving them more. Ask your doctor or pharmacist if you’re not sure.

Triptans. These prescription medicines are designed to stop symptoms once an attack is underway. They’re used for migraine headaches but can also ease other symptoms, including nausea. They work best if taken right when an attack starts.

Triptans come as a tablet that dissolves in your mouth or as a nasal spray. They’re recommended for children who are 6 or over. Depending on how old your child is, your doctor might suggest:

You or your child might have to try more than one before finding one that works.

Anti-nausea drugs. These medicines can help ease an upset stomach and stop vomiting. They come in different forms, including pills and suppositories. You can buy some types over the counter. Ask your doctor or pharmacist which ones are safe for children.

If your child keeps throwing up a lot, a doctor may need to give them hydration therapy. This means they get fluid through an IV.

Get medical help right away if your child has stomach pain along with:

Call their doctor if they often have belly pain or if they’re losing weight, lose their appetite, or feel full quickly when they eat

How to Prevent Abdominal Migraines

The best way to manage abdominal migraines is to stop them before they begin. Start with staying away, as much as possible, from things that trigger abdominal migraine attacks. Possible triggers include:

  • Dehydration
  • Lack of sleep
  • Stress, such as from school or family worries
  • Certain foods and chemicals

Try using a diary or app to keep track of what’s going on before an abdominal migraine starts. See if you can spot anything that makes the pain worse. That may help you lessen attacks down the road.

Share this log with your or your child’s doctor. They can look for possible triggers and discuss strategies that might help.

If you or your child has frequent or serious abdominal migraines, a doctor may also prescribe medications designed to prevent migraine attacks.

The STRESS Approach for Managing Abdominal Migraines

Some experts suggest something called the STRESS approach for managing abdominal migraines. It includes:

Stress management. Talk to your child about what’s bothering them. Kids with abdominal migraine might be more likely than other kids to have anxiety and depression. Unmanaged stress could trigger belly pain.

A mental health professional can teach you and your child how to manage life with an ongoing medical condition. They may suggest cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT). That’s a kind of talk therapy.

Some other ways to ease stress include:

  • Family therapy
  • Yoga
  • Gut-directed hypnotherapy, a type of hypnotism that aims to relieve digestive symptoms
  • Relaxation techniques, such as deep breathing

Travel tips. Motion sickness sometimes brings on symptoms. If that happens to your child, make plenty of stops during road trips. Changes in altitude, such as when you fly or visit the mountains, may also trigger an attack.

Rest. All kids need around 9-11 hours of sleep a night. But good sleep is vital for anyone with a migraine condition.

To make sure your child gets enough ZZZs:

  • Have a regular bedtime routine
  • Limit screens or video games an hour before bed
  • Skip caffeine and sugary drinks late in the day
  • Make sure they get enough physical activity

Talk to your doctor if your child has trouble falling or staying asleep. Another health problem may be keeping them awake. A sleep specialist can help you find out.

Sparkling lights. Like with migraine headaches, your child might be more sensitive to light during or in between attacks. It might help to avoid or limit:

  • Flashing or pulsing lights
  • Bright lights
  • Computer screens
  • TV or movie screens
  • Fluorescent lights

Snacking. Going too long without eating or drinking may bring on an abdominal migraine attack. But for some people, certain food or drinks may worsen symptoms. A food diary could help you pinpoint problem foods.

Some possible food triggers include:

  • Caffeine or chocolate
  • Certain additives, like flavoring, coloring, and monosodium glutamate (MSG)
  • Processed meats

 

Getting the Right Treatment

If your child has abdominal migraines, ask their doctor for a referral to a pediatric neurologist. Those are specialists who treat kids with abdominal migraines.

Ask your doctor lots of questions, and talk to them about the pros and cons of lifestyle changes, drug treatment, and other therapies. They’ll help you find a treatment plan that works best for you or your child.

Show Sources

SOURCES:

Sirisha Sanamandra, MD, assistant professor of clinical neurology, Yale School of Medicine.

American Migraine Foundation: “What You Need to Know About Abdominal Migraine,” “Abdominal Migraine: Causes, Symptoms, and Treatment.”

Yale Medicine: “Abdominal Migraine: Symptoms, Diagnosis & Treatment.”

Pediatric Health, Medicine and Therapeutics: “Pediatric abdominal migraine: current perspectives on a lesser known entity.”

Gastroenterology & Hepatology: “Review of Abdominal Migraine in Children.”

Children’s Wisconsin: “What are abdominal migraines?”

UpToDate: “Patient education: Chronic abdominal pain in children and adolescents (Beyond the Basics).”

Cleveland Clinic: “Is Your Child Getting Enough Sleep? Here’s How to tell.”

National Headache Foundation: “Light and Headache Disorders: Understanding Light Triggers and Photophobia.”

Patient Related Outcome Measures: “Optimal management of severe nausea and vomiting in migraine: improving patient outcomes.”

Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center: “Pizotifen.”

Children’s Health of Orange County: “Acetaminophen vs. ibuprofen; A guide for parents.”

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