remembers her very first, very bad, headache.
“It was very scary. The
pain was unbelievable! I felt
like I was going to throw up. I
had no clue what was going on,” she says.
The headaches occurred once a month, and then once a week.
They were getting worse and worse.
Finally, Chelsea told her dad, who took her to the doctor.
doctor asked Chelsea some questions about how she felt during a headache
and what she had eaten or done just before the headache occurred.
He also asked if anyone in Chelsea’s family had headaches.
Her dad said he had them as a little boy.
It turned out that Chelsea had migraines.
Luckily, the doctor could give Chelsea some medicine to treat these
horrible headaches, and taught her how to know when migraines are
approaching and what to do to avoid them.
everyone gets headaches. You
may have one after bumping your head or during a cold or a spell with
influenza. Regular headaches
either happen occasionally, meaning they’re episodic (pronounced: ep-uh-sa-dek),
or they happen often, meaning they’re chronic.
Most of them produce a dull pain right around the front, top, and
sides of your head, almost as if someone stretched a rubber band around
it. A migraine isn’t a
headache that happens every single day.
It is episodic, usually happening from 1-4 times a month.
The pain is frequently throbbing and on 1 side or both of the head.
Kids with migraines regularly feel dizzy or sick to their stomachs.
Some are sensitive to light, noise, or smells and want to sleep.
When they awake, they usually feel better.
If you have migraines, you’re not alone.
About one out of every 20 kids, or about 8,000,000 children in the
U. S. A. get migraines. Earlier
than age 10, an equal number of boys and girls get migraines, but after
age 12, during and after puberty, migraines affect girls 3 times more
frequently than boys. Migraines are not contagious.
migraine begins when, for some strange reason, blood vessels in the brain
get smaller. When that
happens, the amount of blood and oxygen heading to the brain drops.
So the brain sends a message (“Hey guys, we need some more blood
and oxygen!”) that causes other blood vessels to expand.
When those blood vessels expand, they become irritated, throb, and
cause a pounding pain. Because
it affects the brain and blood vessels, a migraine is a vascular
(involving blood vessels) headache. Some
scientists think that people who get migraines have inherited a more
sensitive nervous system that reacts to sudden changes in either the body
or the environment. The
nervous system reacts when something activates it.
The activation starts a migraine attack.
Some common activations are:
Having a period
Too much caffeine (like coffee or Mountain Dew)
Certain foods (such as pizza, chocolate, ice cream, hot dogs, yogurt, or
anything with MSG, a seasoning used in Asian foods,)
Too much or not enough sleep
one is really sure why people get migraines, but chances are if another
member of your family gets them, you will too.
That’s because scientists believe migraines are genetic, meaning
characteristics have been passed down from parents through genes that make
a kid more likely to get them.
regular headaches might be a 4 on a scale of 1-10, with 10 being the worst
pain, a migraine gets a 7 or 8,” says Dr. David Rothner, a doctor in
Ohio who treats kids with headaches.
Most migraines last from 30 minutes-6 hours; some can last a day or
2. Every migraine begins in a
different way. Some kids just
don’t feel right. Light or
sound might bother them or make them feel worse, and they might even get
sick to their stomachs and vomit. About
1 in 5 kids gets auras, a kind of warning that a migraine is coming.
The most common auras include blurred vision and/or seeing spots,
colored balls, jagged lines, or bright lights, or smelling a certain odor.
An aura usually starts about 10-30 minutes before the start of a
migraine, although some happen as early as the night before.
An aura usually lasts about 20 minutes.
Some kids with migraines have muscle weakness, lose their sense of
coordination, stumble, or even have trouble talking.
a bad migraine every so often doesn’t mean you have a serious medical
condition. “But if you get
headaches that last a while, get worse and worse, cause difficulties with
balance, or start to get in the way of school or after school activities,
do not ignore them, I repeat, do not ignore them.
Tell your parent(s) so they can take you to the doctor,” Dr.
Rothner says. Your doctor
might give you a headache diary so you can figure out what causes your
migraines. Be sure to write down answers to all the questions every time
you have a headache. The info
will help your doctor figure out the best treatment.
Your doctor may start you on an analgesic, a medicine like
acetaminophen or ibuprofen that makes the pain vanish.
He may also prescribe antiemetics, medicines that reduce nausea and
throwing up, and sedatives, which help a child sleep. Some people need stronger “preventative” medicines that
are taken every day to decrease the number and severity of the migraines.
Teens and adults can also take certain medicines at the first sign
of a migraine to stop the headache from getting any worse.
Some doctors might also try to teach you biofeedback.
This technique helps you learn how to relax and use your brain to
gain control over certain body functions (like muscle stress and heart
rate) that cause tension and pain. If
a migraine begins slowly, lots of people can use biofeedback to stay calm
and stop the attack.
The good news is lots of kids outgrow migraines. In the meantime, try to avoid your activations. If pizza, chocolate, cheese, caffeine drinks, or other foods activate your migraines, do not eat them. Take a break from activities that irritate a migraine, such as using the computer for a long time, or listening to loud music. Make a plan for all the things you have to do so that you don’t get so freaked when things pile up. Regular exercise can reduce stress and make you feel better too. If your doctor has prescribed it, always have a dose of your medicine on hand. If you feel one coming, take your medicine. Then lie down in a quiet, dark room until the pain starts to leave. The more you understand about migraines, the better prepared you can be to fight them before they become a pain in the head!
Arboris Ltd. "Medinfo" 2003. <http://www.medinfo.co.uk/conditions/migraine.html> (January, 2004).
Images of headache and sleeping person from "Microsoft Office Online" <http://office.microsoft.com/clipart/default.aspx?cag=1> Images free for non-profit and personal use. (October-February, 2003-2004).
Bernstein, Joanne E. and Paul Cohen. Dizzy Doctor Riddles. Niles, Illinois: Albert Whitman & Company. 1989.
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