Up to five percent of school-age kids have migraine headaches, according to the American Academy of Family Physicians (AAFP), and as many as 20 percent of teens are struck with migraines during high school. The boys who experience the headaches, which are more common in girls, are highly susceptible between the ages of 10 and 12, during which time they could suffer up to three migraines per week.

New Research

Not only do kids suffering from migraines experience pain and discomfort (from accompanying symptoms including nausea, vomiting, and sensitivity to light and sound), they are also more likely to perform below average in school compared to kids who do not suffer from migraines, finds a new study published in the journal Neurology.

Researchers who studied more than 5,000 children (ages five to 12), found those with migraine to be 30 percent more likely to have below-average grades and performance at school compared to students without migraines.

What It Means

“With approximately one-fourth of school-age children having headaches with migraine features, this is a serious problem, especially for those with frequent, severe attacks that do not subside quickly,” said study author Marcelo Bigal, MD, PhD, a member of the American Academy of Neurology, in a statement. “Parents and teachers need to take these headaches seriously and make sure children get appropriate medical attention and treatment.”

Like an adult’s, a child’s migraine starts mildly and worsens over time, lasting anywhere from a few hours to three days.

According to the AAFP, kids may describe migraines saying:

  • “All I want to do is throw up.”
  • “It feels like my heart is pounding in my head.”
  • “I just want to go into a dark room and lie down.”
  • “It is like being inside a big bass drum.”

If your child complains of headaches frequently, make a visit with your pediatrician to discuss the possibility of migraines. Make a note of the frequency and symptoms of the headaches, and any events or foods surrounding them, and prepare to discuss these details with the doctor.

Steps that may help reduce migraine frequency and severity:

  • Exercise
  • Sufficient sleep
  • Eating balanced meals at regular times, without skipping meals
  • Relaxation strategies, including deep breathing, yoga, and meditation
  • OTC pain relievers such as ibuprofen (Advil, Motrin) or acetaminophen (Tylenol) Note: Studies show ibuprofen may ease migraine faster than acetaminophen; use products only as directed.

If, after a period of time, these tactics do not ease your child’s headaches, ask your doctor if biofeedback, cognitive behavioral therapy, or prescription medications may be appropriate treatment options.

You may also consider using this migraine trigger checklist (compliments of Migraine.com) to help determine your child’s possible triggers.

Has Your child ever suffered a pediatric migraine? How did he or she describe it?