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Does Your Child Have Abdominal Migraines?

October 11, 2022

Is your child complaining about stomach pain? One possible cause might surprise you: Abdominal migraines.

An abdominal migraine does not typically produce head pain but instead causes severe pain in the belly of an otherwise healthy child. The good news is that abdominal migraines usually disappear on their own by age 10. In the meantime, though, dealing with abdominal migraines can be challenging for children and their parents. Here’s what you need to know.

Symptoms of Abdominal Migraines

Abdominal migraines are characterized by episodes of unrelenting belly pain that can last for hours or even days and can be separated by weeks or months. Your child usually feels well in between episodes. Some of the most common symptoms of abdominal migraines include:

  • Pain around the belly button
  • Loss of appetite
  • Nausea
  • Vomiting
  • Pale skin

Diagnosing Abdominal Migraines

Because there are no diagnostic exams, your child’s healthcare provider will provide a clinical diagnosis for abdominal migraines. To meet the criteria for such a diagnosis, your child will have at least two of the above symptoms, in addition to the belly pain, and your child’s doctor will rule out any other causes of acute abdominal pain. They may include:

  • Ulcers
  • Crohn’s disease
  • Irritable bowel syndrome (IBS)
  • Disorders of the bladder
  • Disorders of the reproductive system
  • Disorders of the kidneys

The average age for abdominal migraines to start is when your child is 7 years old, but they can begin as early as 3 years old. Girls tend to suffer from abdominal migraines more than boys, and these painful episodes typically do not occur as a result of other illnesses.

However, if your child has abdominal migraines, a personal or family history of migraines is likely, as well. In one recent study, 70 percent of children with abdominal migraines developed migraine headaches with an aura as adults.

What Triggers Abdominal Migraines?

The causes of abdominal migraines are not well understood, but researchers suspect a problem in the connection between the brain and gut. Common triggers are stress, poor sleep, travel, motion sickness and missing a meal. Some foods seem to trigger migraines, too, but food in general is less of a factor with abdominal migraines.

For many, these attacks happen without warning, so it can be hard to avoid triggers. Tracking symptoms over time can help you and your child narrow down possible triggers.

Treatments for Abdominal Migraines

Lifestyle changes can help prevent an abdominal migraine. Getting enough sleep on a regular schedule, eating a well-balanced diet, drinking enough water, exercising and managing stress all play a part in limiting abdominal migraines.

When abdominal migraines do occur, acute treatment options include non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs), anti-nausea medications, and triptan medications. Taking a rest in a dark room also can be helpful.

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