How To Identify & Treat Pediatric Migraines - Ridgefield Moms

We often hear about migraines in adults, but we rarely hear about what they look like in children. According to the New England Institute for Neurology and Headache (NEINH) in Stamford, between four-percent and eight-percent of children will experience a headache consistent with a migraine. The challenge for parents and doctors is that children often describe, if not experience, migraine differently than most adults. Treatment can also look different for children than for adults.

We spoke to Dr. Kate Mullin with NEINH about what you need to do when it comes to identifying and treating pediatric migraines.

How do I know if my child is having migraines?
“Children can suffer from abdominal migraines which are much more focused around stomach pain and nausea than headache pain. They can also describe more whole head pressure rather than throbbing unilateral pain that we associate with migraines in adults. Childhood migraines are also shorter than an adult migraine, sometimes lasting minutes as opposed to hours or days.”

What should I do if I suspect my child is having migraines?
“The first thing you should do is seek help from a medical professional to make sure that a migraine is in fact what your child is suffering from. Once that’s determined, depending on your child’s headache burden, you and the doctor will decide if your child is appropriate for an every day medication to help reduce their headache frequency (a preventative medication) or if they just need an effective medication to end each headache as it comes (an abortive medication).”

How are migraines diagnosed in children?
“Migraines in children are diagnosed primarily based on history and physical exam. If the child has a story consistent with migraine, has a normal physical and neurologic exam, and a family history of migraine, then often times no further testing is needed. If there are any “red flags” or worrisome components of the history (fever, sudden onset) or the exam (stiff neck, confusion) then further testing such as an MRI or lumbar puncture may be necessary.”

When do children tend to begin having migraines?
“Migraines generally start around adolescence although they can certainly begin sooner. Generally speaking, migraines peak in boys in their teenage years and then they tend to “grow out of them.” Often times girls start experiencing migraines around menstruation and then, unfortunately, grow into them as they continue throughout their child-bearing years.”

What triggers pediatric migraines?
“Migraines in children are triggered by similar situations as adults. Skipping meals, being dehydrated, or over-tired are a few classic examples of scenarios likely to trigger a migraine.”

“If you suspect your child is having migraines, see if you can identify triggers and reduce them. Making sure your child eats multiple protein filled meals a day, drinks plenty of water, gets a good night’s sleep each night are a few of the ways that you can help reduce their headache burden.”

“Some migraines simply require medicines. While over-the-counter medications like Ibuprofen may help a low-level headache, true migraine often needs better, more specific therapy.  While we have a number of good options for adults, there are not that many migraine-specific treatment choices for children and adolescents.”

The New England Institute for Clinical Research (NEICR) is conducting pediatric migraine studies aiming to bring safe, effective and well-tolerated pediatric migraine treatments to the market. Tell us about NEICR.
“Currently, at NEICR, we have three clinical trials for children ages 6-17. Two of them are trials are for abortive medications, the third is a preventive medication study.”

“The abortive medication trials are a “one and done” protocol with optional open labels where the visits are limited. The preventative treatment trial, because it is looking at the effectiveness of a medication over time, does require more study visits. Visits generally consist of taking surveys, sometimes blood work, and being seen and examined by the study doctor.”

NEICR is a branch of NEINH and is on the forefront of medicine, bringing state-of-the-art research programs from the pharmaceutical industry, academia, medical societies and patient advocacy groups to the New England and metro New York community. The core research team has participated in more than 100 trials, and over 90% of their research endeavors have resulted in the approval by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) of new devices, oral and injectable medicines for the diagnosis and treatment of a wide array of diseases.

If you are interested in clinical trials for pediatric migraine you can call (203) 914-1903 ext 4 to discuss which studies your child may be a good fit for and what the study visits entail.


This post is sponsored by the New England Institute for Neurology & Headache, located at 30 Buxton Farm Road (Ste 230) in Stamford. To find out more or book an appointment, go to or call (203) 914-1900. 

Photos c/o Pexels.

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