Montana Public Radio

Kids and Migraines: Dr. Starbuck Explains

Oct 29, 2018

Hi! I’m Dr. Jamison Starbuck, a naturopathic family physician. I’m here today with health tips for kids about: migraines. 

Kids get all sorts of headaches: stress headaches, headaches from banging their heads or from sleeping in a weird position. You can get a headache when you have a cold or the flu or if you throw up a lot. But migraines, M-I-G-R-A-I-N-E-S, are a different kind of headache.

Migraines hurt more than most headaches and they affect your whole body. When kids get a migraine, something happens that makes the blood vessels in the brain constrict; they get really small and tight. The brain doesn’t get enough oxygen and it calls out for help, saying ‘I need more blood’. Your body responds and more blood flows into your brain, making the vessels dilate – they get wider and wider and wider. Pretty soon your brain is filled with lots of blood and your head is pounding and throbbing and hurting a lot.

When you have a migraine headache, you might also feel sick to your stomach and even throw up. Your eyes can feel strange; lights can seem too bright, be flickery and have halos around them. You might want to put a dark cloth over your eyes or be in a dark room.

When kids have a migraine, they can be sensitive to smells and sounds. Smells that normally are nice, like cookies baking or fresh flowers can make a person with a migraine feel sick. Music and loud talking can make the headache worse.

Migraines last for a few hours – or all day. Some kids get migraines once a year; some once a week. To figure out if you have migraines or some other kind of headache, your parents will need to take you to the doctor. You can help your doctor out before your visit by keeping a headache diary. That means you write down on a calendar the days and times you get headaches. Write how you felt and what you were doing the day before you got the headache. Make notes of how long the headache lasted, how much pain you had, if you threw up or had to go in a dark room or had pain somewhere else in your body along with the headache.

Also do some research about whether anyone else in your family has migraines. Your doctor will want to know because migraine can be a genetic condition, meaning a problem for many people in the same family. If one of your parents has migraine headaches, you have a 50% chance of having them too. Your doctor can give you medicine to help with the pain, but it’s even better to prevent a migraine from happening.

Here’s how you can do that: Try avoiding chocolate, cheese, citrus, chemicals like nitrates and MSG and fake sugar. They all are known causes of migraines. You can also get a food allergy test to see if something you are eating is causing headaches.

Stress can cause headaches, so talk to your parents and teachers about how you can reduce it. I’m not talking about less homework. What I mean is having a plan for something to do each day to calm your mind and feel relaxed. For some kids that’s reading a book or doing yoga. For others it’s writing stories or playing a sport or going for a walk with your dog. Take frequent breaks when you are playing video games or working on a computer. The flickering lights of the screen can trigger a migraine. At least once every half hour, get up and walk away for a couple minutes. If you have migraines, you might not be getting enough minerals, especially magnesium and potassium, from your diet. You get those in whole grains and vegetables, so make sure your diet has plenty. Your parents can also give you a minerals supplement to take every day.

Finally, don’t skimp on water. Dehydration is a big cause of headache. To figure out how much you need, divide your weight in half. That’s how many ounces of water you should have each day. I’m Dr. Jamison Starbuck and I’m wishing you well.