Abdominal Migraines

Medically Reviewed by Carmelita Swiner, MD on November 12, 2022
3 min read

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. Of all kids who have chronic stomach pain, up to 15% of them may have abdominal migraines.; 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.

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, food with monosodium glutamate (MSG), and processed meats with nitrites might trigger abdominal migraines in some people.

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

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.

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 belly problems.

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

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

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 Ibuprofen or acetaminophen may stop an attack if given early enough. If that doesn't work and the child is over 5, the doctor may recommend triptans like rizatriptan (Maxalt) and zolmitriptan (Zomig) that are available as tablets that dissolve in the mouth, and sumatriptan (Imitrex Nasal Spray, Onzetra Xsail Nasal Powder, Tosymra Nasal Spray) and zolmitriptan (Zomig Nasal Spray) that are available in nasal forms.

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.

  • Cyproheptadine, an antihistamine that also helps tummy troubles
  • Propranolol (Inderal), a kind of heart medication called a beta-blocker
  • Valproic acid (Depakene, Depakote), a medicine for seizures and bipolar disorder

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.