Migraine Pain in Adults and Children

All of us have had headaches. Usually, they are brought on by fever or tension, but after popping a few aspirins, they disappear. However, migraine headaches are different. Not only are they different than headaches, but they are disabling and miserable to endure.

In this article, we are going to examine what a migraine looks like both in adults and in children and explore some of the treatments available to end the suffering.

Migraine Attacks in Adults

 The vision many people have of a person experiencing a migraine is of someone lying in bed in total darkness and ignoring the sounds of the house.

This view of a person having a migraine attack is accurate for the majority of the people who have them.

A migraine headache is characterized by severe pain in the head and is often accompanied by other symptoms such as nausea, vomiting, difficulty speaking, numbness, tingling plus sensitivity to light and sound.

These debilitatingly painful neurological events often run in families and affect people of all ages. However, five times more women have migraines than men and 63% of those who have them suffer through one or more migraine attacks every month.

All this pain translates into someone experiencing a migraine missing at least one day of work or school a month. It also means less productive work for those who can remain on the job with the pain. The emergency room was utilized by 24% of those experiencing migraines in 2017 trying to find relief with strong medications.

The Economic Impact of Migraine Headaches

It has been estimated that migraines cost people 36 million days of bed rest and 21.5 million days of restricted activity days per year. That is economically costly.

One study estimates that these painful events result in a loss of productivity in the United States alone at between $5.6 billion to $17.2 billion per year due to missed work. That is a huge price tag when you consider that the average missed two days of work per year of every person suffering from a migraine attack. It doesn’t just harm the paycheck of the sufferer, but the national economy as well.

It isn’t just lost productivity and lower paychecks that are impacted economically. People who experience migraines spend much more on health care than those who do not. These folks spend 2.5 times more on prescription drugs and have six times more diagnostic tests trying to find relief.

Those figures translate into the average monthly cost per month for migraine sufferers is $145 per month while those who do not only pay $89.

To add to the burden that people who have migraine attacks are under, many insurance companies limit or will not pay for the drugs to treat them. Plus, these medications are expensive if one must pay for them out-of-pocket.

How Does a Migraine Feel?

 Migraine attacks begin gradually and intensify over a short time then the symptoms subside slowly. Migraines have been described as dull, deep in the more moderate forms, and throbbing when they are severe. Usually, the pain is on one side of the head, but it can be an overall pain. Migraine attacks can last for hours or in the most severe forms, for days.

The pain of a migraine may be made worse by exposure to light, motion or physical activity. Also, sneezing, straining or moving the head rapidly can make the pain worse. To get relief, many people will sequester themselves away from all family activity in a cool and darkened room.

Warning symptoms tell many people that they are going to have a migraine event. Known as auras, they can include flashes of light, blind spots, or tingling on one side of the face or in an arm or leg.

Causes and Triggers for Migraine Attacks

 Migraines are a medical mystery that is slowly giving up their secrets. Genetics and environmental factors do seem to play a significant role in who gets them.

Migraines are thought to be caused by changes in the brainstem located at the base of the head. Imbalances in neurotransmitters (the brain chemicals responsible for carrying the signals from one brain cell to the other.)  Some of these neurotransmitters such as serotonin help to regulate pain in the nervous system.

Current research suggests that serotonin’s drop during a migraine causes the trigeminal nerve (your pain nerve) to release neuropeptides (substances in the brain) that affect the outer covering on the brain.

Once the neuropeptides are released, a migraine results.

The researchers are looking at other neurotransmitters as well to see how they may be causing the pain and suffering of migraine attacks.

The jury is still out on this possible cause as research is ongoing.

The triggers of a migraine are different for each person but often include stress, worry, menstrual periods, birth control pills, fatigue, lack of sleep and head trauma. Some people report that consuming certain foods and drinks containing chemicals such as artificial sweetener Aspartate are triggers.

Medications can also trigger migraines, such as nitroglycerin, estrogens, high blood pressure meds, perfume, smoke, and solvents.

 Treatments for an Adult Migraine

 As has been mentioned, there are medications to prevent migraines and to make them hurt less. The treatment offered migraine sufferers depend on the frequency and severity of the pain.

Treatment options for the onset of a migraine include taking medications to try to alleviate pain immediately. These include aspirin, acetaminophen, nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDS), Ibuprofen or Naproxen.  Pain relievers that can be taken with caffeine are most helpful as caffeine enhances their antimigraine action.

Some of the medications listed above are not good for people who have gastric problems, such as ulcers or kidney disease. They also should never be taken if you are already taking medication for bleeding or have a bleeding condition.

Always, always, check with your doctor before beginning any medication. Make sure to tell your doctor about every medication you are taking, even herbal remedies as they can affect how medications to treat migraine attacks act.

As they say, an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure. One of the best ways to prevent migraines is to take the medication given to you by your doctor regularly.

Also, keeping a migraine diary can help you find your triggers and pin down when you are the most likely to have one occur.

Migraine Attacks in Children

 As we have already seen, migraines run in families. However, parents who experience migraine attacks often don’t appreciate the connection between migraines and the pain their children may be experiencing.

The symptoms children have with a migraine attack are the same as those an adult may experience. However, never try to diagnose or treat head pain on your own.

Always see your pediatrician or family doctor right away if your child begins to experience pain in their head. Your pediatrician or family doctor will order tests to rule out another more serious disease or disorder.

Symptoms in Children of a Migraine Attack

Recognizing that your child is experiencing a migraine can be difficult. Children often complain of pain that isn’t real or they may be trying to imitate your migraine attack behaviors.

However, some signs can tell you that your child is suffering from a migraine. First, the pain pay is accompanied by nausea and vomiting. You may find your child lying abnormally quiet in a dark and quiet room. Your child may show other signs too such as unusual depression, irritability or fatigue.

So, don’t ignore it if your child exhibits a change in behavior and complains of pain as their lives may depend on your actions or inactions. While it may be a migraine attack similar to what you or another relative has complained of, head pain can be something much more sinister such as a concussion.

Be on the watch for signs of a head injury, especially if your child plays sports. A migraine is a major sign of a concussion along with a dazed, stunned or confused look. If you notice these signs or your child having problems remembering events, slow to respond to questions, insomnia, sleeping excessively or mood swings go to the emergency room immediately.

Diagnostic Testing for Migraines in Children


After talking to your pediatrician or other healthcare professional about your child’s head pain complaint, he or she may order some diagnostic tests.

First, the doctor will take a detailed history and do a physical examination to look for other medical problems. Barring them finding anything wrong, they will then order some tests to check your child’s blood and brain.

Bloodwork can tell your doctor many things about what is going on in your child’s body. Something as simple as dehydration can be the cause of the pain and can be easily treated with you enforcing your child drinking more water.

If the bloodwork shows normal, then your doctor may order a brain scan as in an MRI machine.

Children have a tough time lying still in an MRI machine for the forty-five minutes they will not be able to move, so mild sedation may be required.

Your doctor will explain the tests he or she is ordering so don’t be afraid to ask questions.

 Causes and Triggers of Migraines in Children


As with adults who experience migraine attacks children are believed, as stated above, to inherit the propensity to have them. There are also the same triggers involved as with adults.

Loss of sleep can trigger a migraine, as can eating an unhealthy diet, or not drinking enough water. Stress is also a massive trigger for children just as it is in adults. As a parent, it is up to you to help lessen the stress your child experiences in both schools and at home.

Children may be worrying about tests, bullying or teasing by peers. Sometimes your child may not want to tell you about what is bothering them, but it is essential to take an active part and ask them.

Teenage girls who are beginning to menstruate may experience migraine attacks just before or during their periods.

Treating Migraines in Children

 Asking your health care professional to refer your child to a migraine specialist or a neurologist can help you find relief for your child. While most pediatricians and family doctors can prescribe medications to treat a child’s migraine attacks, having a specialist involved can help.

You can make a preemptive strike against your child experiencing the pain of a migraine by keeping a diary of possible triggers and anything else your child goes through from a migraine attack. Be sure to include the things that worked. Share this diary with your healthcare provider.

It might also be a complementary treatment to ask your provider to refer your child to a child therapist. He or she can help your child deal with stress better and avert it from causing them pain.

Once your healthcare provider has recommended a medical treatment for your child, be sure they take it on time. Some kids are resistant to taking medications so that some coaxing may be required.

If your child’s migraine attacks change in some way, such as becoming more frequent or hurting more severely, than contact your healthcare specialist immediately.

Migraine pain need not interrupt the life of a child or an adult. By speaking to your doctor or pediatrician and following their recommendations closely, the pain and suffering of a migraine can be put to rest.

As always, awareness is the biggest key to helping adults and children sufferers of migraine headaches.

By paying attention to what your body is telling you, as an adult, you can find the care you need. Likewise, by not ignoring your child when they exhibit changes in their behavior and complain of a severe headache, it is time to act.

Don’t forget to download and utilize our free Patient Next Door app onto your smartphone. With it, you can share the healthcare journey of you and your child with people who are facing similar conditions.

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As always, we here at Patient Next Door love serving you and hope you will join us in aiding others in finding resources and hope.

We care about you.

Disclaimer: The opinions expressed in this post are the personal views of the author. They do not necessarily reflect the views of PatientNextDoor. Any omissions or errors are the author’s and PatientNextDoor does not assume any liability or responsibility for them.

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