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Headaches & Migraines

Pain in any region of the head is called a headache. It may involve one or both sides of the head and may radiate to the neck and shoulders. Your child may experience dull pressure, a throbbing sensation or sharp pain that may last anywhere between an hour to days.In some cases it may indicate a serious underlying disease.

Headaches are broadly classified into 2 types:

  • Primary headaches are caused by stress, anxiety or certain triggers. They occur due to an overactive pain-sensitive region in the head and are not associated with any other condition.Common primary headaches can include tension headaches (result from tight muscles in the neck, scalp and shoulders), migraine (throbbing pain on one side of the head) and cluster headache (occurs in patterns or clusters).
  • Secondary headaches may be described as a symptom of another condition such as anear infection, sinusitis, dehydration, panic attack,meningitis (inflammation of the membranes covering the brain and spinal cord) and concussion (brain injury), which may trigger the pain-sensitive region in the head.

If your child’s headaches are severe and occur frequently, it is necessary to contact the doctor who will perform a detailed exam of your child’s head, ears, eyes, nose, neck, throat and nervous system. A CT or MRI scan and blood tests may be ordered. A lumbar puncture, which studies the fluid surrounding the brain and spinal canal, may be helpful in diagnosing infections.

To treat tension headaches, your child’s doctor may prescribe pain medications. Medication may be provided for other symptoms such as nausea. For secondary headaches, treatment is focused on the associated condition. Your child’s doctor may also recommend other ways of managing headaches,such as massage, relaxation therapy and avoiding triggers.

Migraine Headaches

A migraine is a type of headache characterized by severe throbbing pain on one side of the head, accompanied by secondary symptoms such as nausea, vomiting and sensitivity to light, sound or smell. Other symptoms may include lightheadedness and blurry vision. Common in adults, migraines can also occur in children.

A migraine may or may not be preceded by an aura, a neurological warning sign, which occurs 10 to 15 minutes before an attack. These include flashes of light, tingling sensations, or speech problems. A migraine may last from a few hours to 3 days.

The exact cause of migraines is unknown, but they are thought to be due to the release of certain chemicals in the brain and inherited abnormalities in some regions of the brain. It may have an environmental cause, triggered by missing meals, hormone changes during menstruation in young girls, stress, sudden physical exercise, poor sleep habits, dehydration, bright lights, loud sounds, unusual smells (paint thinner)and certain foods.

When your child presents to the clinic with migraine symptoms, your child’s doctor will study the nature and history of the headaches and associated symptoms and identify any family history of the condition. Blood tests, EEG, lumbar puncture, and CT and MRI scans may be ordered to rule out other possible reasons for your headache.

To treat migraine your child’s doctor may prescribe medications that prevent migraines when taken on a regular basis, or abortive medications that are taken when a migraine occurs. Certain medications used for other purposes such as anti-nausea medication, pain medication and NSAIDs are also effective in treating symptoms of migraine. Other options may include incorporating relaxation techniques, acupuncture, proper exercises,timely rest, cognitive-behavioral therapy, and specific diet that excludes attack triggers.

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