01 September 2010
By Tara Parker-Pope
New york, NY USA
DOCTORS say frequent headaches and migraines are among the most common childhood health complaints, yet the problem gets surprisingly little attention from the medical community.
Often the real issue, say doctors, is that changes in a child’s sleep schedule, including getting up early for school and staying up late to study, as well as skipping breakfast, not drinking enough water and weather changes can all trigger migraines when the school year starts.
"In many areas people just don’t think kids can get migraines," says Dr Andrew Hershey, professor of pediatrics and neurology and director of the headache centre at Cincinnati Children’s Hospital Medical Center. "But kids shouldn’t be missing activities and having trouble at school because they’re having headaches. If it happens, it shouldn’t be ignored."
Migraine is an inherited neurological condition characterised by severe, often disabling headache pain. During a migraine attack, a number of changes occur throughout the brain causing dilation of blood vessels; severe pain; increased sensitivity to lights, sounds and smells; nausea and vomiting; and other symptoms.
It’s estimated that about 10 per cent of young children and up to 28 per cent of older teenagers suffer from migraines. (Hormonal changes dur ing puberty can also be a trigger.) But childhood migraine often doesn’t show up the same way as an adult migraine.
While adult migraines often last four hours or more, in a child, the duration of a migraine can range from as little as one hour up to 72 hours. In adults, migraines typically settle on one side of the head, but in children migraine pain is often felt across the front of the forehead or on both temples rather than on just one side. As a result, childhood migraines are often dismissed as sinus headaches.
"The presentation is different enough that it can be missed by an adult neurologist," says Dr Philip Overby, assistant professor of neurology and pediatrics at Children’s Hospital at Montefiore in the Bronx. "Kids 3 years old can be having a migraine."
Janet Podell of New Jersey, said her daughter Hannah began suffering from migraines at age 8. The pain later became so debilitating that Hannah missed two years of school. Finally, the family found a doctor who prescribed a combination of drugs. Although Hannah, now 20, still gets migraines, they are essentially under control.