How to Prevent Your Child's Migraine Headaches

When should a child take medication for migraines?

Anxious Chinese student rubbing forehead doing homework
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If you have migraines and your child has typical migraine symptoms, it's very likely she has migraines, too. What most parents don't know is that migraines are common in kids, affecting about five to 10 percent of children.

Treating Migraine Headache Symptoms in Kids

There are two main ways to treat migraine headaches. The first is to simply take something when you get a headache or feel one coming on with the hope that it will quickly go away.

This is harder to do in kids, as many common migraine treatments that adults use aren't recommended or approved for use in young children. That generally leaves you with just using a common over-the-counter pain medication like Tylenol or Motrin when your child gets a headache.

The other way to treat migraine headaches is to try and prevent them by taking a prophylactic or preventative medication every day, even when your child doesn't have a headache. Commonly used prophylactic medications for migraines include:

  • Periactin (Cyproheptadine - an antihistamine)
  • Elavil (Amitriptyline - an antidepressant)
  • Depakote (Valproic Acid)
  • Tegretol (Carbamazepine)
  • Topamax (Topiramate) or Inderal (Propranolol)

Does Your Child Need a Prophylactic Migraine Medication?

In general, four to six migraine headaches a month is be considered a lot. At that rate, most people want to do something to prevent those headaches and migraine attacks, even if means taking a medication every day.

But your considerations should not be limited to frequency.

You also have to consider how bad or severe the headaches are. If your child's headaches are minor, perhaps responding to about 10 or 15 minutes of rest, then you might not need to do anything. On the other hand, even just one or two bad headaches a month might be enough to warrant a prophylactic medicine.

An article in Pediatric Headache reports that the use of preventive therapy should be considered if the patient is having approximately two or more headaches per week that are associated with disability or three to four incapacitating headaches per month.

Other Things to Consider Before Choosing Preventative Medications

Another way to think about it, is do the headaches interfere with your child's daily routine and day-to-day activities? Is he or she missing a lot of school or other activities? If so, then a prophylactic medicine to prevent migraines might be a good idea.

You might also choose to keep a symptom diary to see if you can find and avoid specific triggers for her migraines. Is she getting enough sleep? Does stress seem to be a trigger? Or does he get them after eating or drinking certain things? Or after skipping meals?

Keep in mind that common foods, including many kids' favorites, are thought to trigger migraines, including: chocolate, diet drinks (aspartame), cheese, hot dogs and processed meats (nitrites), soda (caffeine), MSG, and fatty foods (fatty acids).

Consult Your Pediatrician

A pediatric neurologist might also be helpful to manage your child's migraine headaches. A visit is especially important if your child's headaches aren't getting under better control after four to six months or if they are starting to get worse.

If you notice any other symptoms besides headaches, such as blurred vision or mood swings, it's best to contact your child's pediatrician to make sure there isn't something more serious than migraines going on.

Sources:

Kliegman: Nelson Textbook of Pediatrics, 18th ed.

Lewis DW - Am Fam Physician - 15-FEB-2002; 65(4): 625-32.

Linder SL - Med Clin North Am - 01-JUL-2001; 85(4): 1037-53.

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