Emily remembers her first bad headache. "It was really scary. The pain was unbelievable
and I felt like I was going to throw up," she said. "I had no idea what was happening."
The headaches struck once a month, then once a week. They were getting worse and worse.
Emily told her mom, who took her to the doctor.
It turned out that Emily had migraines (say: MY-graynz). Luckily, the doctor gave
Emily some medicine to treat her headaches. The doctor also taught her how to know
when a migraine is coming and how to avoid them.
What's a Migraine?
Almost everyone gets headaches. You might have one after bumping your head or during a
or bout with the flu.
Some types of headaches may happen only once in a while, whereas others can happen
as often as every day. Most headaches produce a dull pain around the front, top, and
sides of your head, almost like someone stretched a rubber band around your noggin.
But a migraine is worse than a regular headache. Migraines usually occur about
one to four times a month. The pain is often throbbing and can happen on one or both
sides of the head.
Kids with migraines often feel dizzy or sick to their stomachs. During the headache, some kids are sensitive
to light, noise, or smells, and want to sleep. When they wake up, they usually feel
better. Most migraines last from 30 minutes to 6 hours but some can last a day or
If you have migraines, you're not alone. About 1 out of every 20 kids, or about
8 million children in the United States, gets migraines. Before age 10, an equal number
of boys and girls get migraines. But after age 12, during and after puberty, migraines
affect girls three times more often than boys.
Migraines aren't contagious, which means you can't catch them from someone who
What Causes a Migraine?
A migraine begins when, for some reason, blood vessels in the brain narrow (constrict) temporarily. When that happens, the amount
of blood and oxygen flowing to the brain drops. So the brain sends a message: "Hey,
guys, we need some more blood and oxygen here!"
That causes other blood vessels to dilate (expand). When those blood vessels expand,
they become inflamed, throb, and cause a pounding pain. Because it involves changes
in blood vessels, a migraine is a vascular (say: VAS-kyuh-lur) headache.
Some scientists believe that people who get migraines have inherited a tendency
for their nervous systems to react differently to changes in their bodies or their
environment. Certain things may trigger a reaction in the person's nervous system
and start a migraine attack.
No one is really sure why people get migraines. But chances are, if you get migraines,
another member of your family gets them as well. That's because scientists think migraines
are genetic, which means that certain genes passed on from parents make a kid more likely to get them.
Do You Know a Migraine Is Coming?
Migraines begin differently. Some kids just don't feel right. Light or sound may
bother them or make them feel worse, and they may even get sick to their stomachs
and throw up. Before or during a migraine headache, some kids may have muscle weakness,
lose their sense of coordination, stumble, or even have trouble talking.
About 1 in 5 kids gets an aura (say: AWR-uh), a kind of warning
that a migraine is on the way. The most common auras include blurred vision and/or
seeing spots, colored balls, jagged lines, or bright lights, or smelling a certain
An aura usually starts about 10 to 30 minutes before the start of a migraine headache,
although auras can happen the night before the headache starts. An aura usually lasts
about 20 minutes.
Treatments for Migraines
Getting a migraine once in a while may be annoying, but usually doesn't cause any
big problems for a kid. But be sure to tell your mom or dad if you have headaches
last a long time
seem to be getting worse
happen more often
cause problems with balance
interfere with school or after-school activities
Your doctor will want to know about those problems and can try to help. Your doctor
also may want you to keep a headache diary. By keeping track of your headaches, you
may be able to figure out what triggers them. Answer all the questions in the diary
each time you have a headache. The information will help your doctor figure out the
Your doctor may suggest one or more medicines you can take. They could include:
sedatives, which can help you to go to sleep and get rid of the headache
medicines to prevent migraines or make them less severe
Some doctors may also try to teach you biofeedback. This technique helps you learn
to relax and use your brain to gain control over certain body functions. If a migraine
begins slowly, many people can use biofeedback to remain calm and stop the attack.
How to Prevent a Migraine
The good news is that many kids outgrow migraines. In the meantime, follow your
doctor's instructions and take your medicine as instructed. Make sure you have the
medicine on hand in case a migraine starts at school or when you're away from home.
Also try to stay away from your migraine triggers. If certain
foods like chocolate or cheese or caffeinated drinks trigger your migraines, it's
a good idea to avoid them. Also, take breaks from activities that seem to trigger
your migraines, such as using the computer for a long time
to loud music.
Fight stress by making a plan so you don't feel freaked out by all the stuff you
need to get done. Regular exercise also can reduce stress
and make you feel better. The more you understand migraines, the better prepared you
can be to fight them before they become a big pain!