Pediatric and Adolescent Headache

Pediatric Migraine Symptoms and Treatment

Our pediatric migraine specialists are inspired by our youngest patients to ensure that only the most effective and safest therapies are prescribed. The Diamond Headache Clinic offers our pediatric and adolescent patients a comprehensive course of diagnosis and treatment through our outpatient facility or our inpatient unit at Presence St. Joseph Hospital, both in Chicago. Our inpatient facility has its own pediatric wing for our young patients, where accommodations are offered to a parent or other caregiver as well.

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Several pediatric headache types occur in children, and we typically diagnose migraine, tension and cluster headaches. While these headache types are seen in adults too, children often present with different symptoms. That’s why you need to see the skilled, experienced headache doctors at the Diamond Headache Clinic for proper diagnosis and treatment. If your child exhibits symptoms of a different, more severe nature — one that indicates a serious underlying cause — we will diagnose that as well.

What Are the Symptoms of Pediatric Headaches?

The most common types of headache in children and adolescents, and their symptoms, are the following:

Migraine Headache

The average age of onset for migraine is 7 years old for boys and 10 years old for girls, although symptoms may appear in much younger children. Up to age 12, equal numbers of boys and girls suffer from migraine; by the ages 21 – 24, up to 80% of migraineurs are woman. Children with migraine often have a family history of migraine. Migraine affects up to 5% of school-aged children. From 50% to 75% of children with migraine will cease having attacks between adolescence and early adulthood, but some will redevelop migraine later. Common symptoms of migraine in youngsters include:

  • Pain on one or both sides of the head, or a child may report pain “all over”
  • Pounding or throbbing pain, although children may not be able to articulate this
  • Abdominal upset, nausea and/or vomiting
  • Sensitivity to light and/or sound
  • Sweating
  • Becoming pale or quiet
  • Experiencing an aura, or a sense of flashing lights, funny smells and changes in vision

Tension-Type Headache

A tension-type headache is common and is often triggered by stress or emotional/mental conflict. Generally, symptoms include:

  • Headache that develops slowly
  • Pain usually present on both sides, and may involve the back of the head
  • Dull pain or pain that feels like a band around the head
  • Mild to moderate, not severe, pain
  • Change in sleep habits

Cluster Headache

More common in adolescent males, cluster headache usually begins in children over 10 years of age. This headache type occurs in a series, or “cluster,” that can last for weeks or months. This series of headaches may recur annually or every other year. Common symptoms in children and adolescents include:

  • Unilateral (one-sided) pain, often behind an eye
  • The affected eye may look droopy and have a small pupil, or the eyelid may be red and swollen.
  • Congestion or runny nose
  • Swollen forehead

Headache Associated With a Serious Issue

If your child shows these symptoms, consult a headache specialist to determine if there is a possible serious underlying cause:

  • Headache in a very young child
  • Headache pain that awakens a child
  • Headaches that begin very early in the day
  • Pain worsened by strain like a cough or sneeze
  • Recurrent vomiting episodes or other signs of a stomach virus
  • Child complaining about “the worst headache ever”
  • Increasing severity of headache, or one that continues
  • Personality changes
  • Weakness in limbs or problems with balance
  • Seizures or epilepsy

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How Is A Pediatric Headache Diagnosed?

An accurate diagnosis is the first step to effective treatment in children and adolescents with headache. When you visit the Diamond Headache Clinic with your child, a pediatric migraine specialist evaluates your child thoroughly, including a physical exam, inquiries into medical and family history, and diagnostic tests. We ask the child to describe the pain, its location, the duration of the headache and more. We ask parents about changes in behavior, personality, sleeping patterns, emotional stress and if physical trauma preceded the headache. If symptoms indicate migraine or tension headache, we may not recommend further testing. But sometimes, additional diagnostic tests may be necessary; these may include blood tests, an MRI or CT scan, or a polysomnogram to check for a sleep disorder.

What Is the Recommended Pediatric Headache Treatment?

Each patient receives a individualized pediatric headache treatment regimen that includes these components:

  • Medication
    Specific therapeutic agents are prescribed, and patient response is closely monitored to evaluate efficacy and minimize side effects.
  • Lifestyle Modification
    Patients are instructed in the areas of diet, recreation, sleep patterns and other habits linked to headaches.
  • Biofeedback Training
    This is a non-drug therapy that enables patients to actively participate in their treatment while alleviating headache symptoms. About 70% of all patients, and especially children, benefit from this training. Biofeedback augments other therapies and is particularly useful for patients for whom stress is a major contributing factor to headaches, or for those patients who are unable to use standard headache agents.
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