Knock in the Head: Pediatric Migraines

Last week’s Health Update in the New York Times included an interesting article, titled “Returning to Classrooms, and to Severe Headaches.” Migraines, or severe headaches, in children and adolescents are a major complaint, yet largely overlooked in the medical community. Because children tend to complain about headaches during the school season, parents believe they’re attempting to avoid school and homework. However, physicians reason the hectic school schedule affects their well-being in a negative way, such as disrupting normal sleep, getting up early, studying late, skipping meals, and adapting to weather changes. All contribute to a stressful academic schedule and extracurricular activities. In addition, young children do not voice their symptoms coherently, easily causing parents to misinterpret and confuse them with imagination and play.

Barbie with a Headache

What are migraines? Basically, migraines are severe headaches, usually inherited. During an ‘attack’, blood vessels in the brain dilate, disabling pain, sensitivity to light and sound, and nausea/vomiting. Childhood migraines vary slightly from the adult form: lasting between 1 hour to 72 hours instead of 4 hours and spreading across the forehead or both temples rather than localizing on one side.

Here is a synopsis of the three-pronged treatment: 1) immediate pain relief, ibuprofen or triptan drug (beware of ‘rebound’ effect of OTC drugs), 2) preventative therapy for extensive headaches, anti-depressants or anti-seizure drugs, and 3) lifestyle changes.

Back when I was in junior year of high school, I suffered miserable headaches. I felt extreme pressure throughout my head. Most times, I a numbing vibration spread from the front to the back, like a major buzz to the brain. Dizzy, confused, and tired almost every day, I just wanted to sleep. The pounding headaches made my head feel extra heavy, this weight dragging me down for a hell ride. Only when I laid down did I feel more at ease. In addition, when I was under the piercingly bright sun, I would get a brief, localized shooting pain by the temples. Plus, loud sounds were not pleasant either (and still not). Concerned and nervous, I went to the doctor and got an MRI. I was afraid for something worse, but in the end, I was diagnosed with migraines and prescribed medications. I eventually stopped taking the drugs, and now I’m almost normal. I never isolated my ‘triggers,’ but I make sure I get my sleep and food to prevent the onset of those knocking headaches. Perhaps it was puberty, the pressures of school or lack of exercise. Through college, I became vegetarian and exercised all year, and felt refreshed; in the best shape of my life, my migraines melted away… Luckily this article supplemented my knowledge and confirmed the preventative treatment I tried for myself. And maybe for you too if you suffered like I did for 2 years.

Here’s a link to the original article on August 30, 2010.

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