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What are the symptoms of a headache or a migraine?

Answered on 11th January 2016
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Primary headaches (those that occur without any underlying health problem) can be split into a number of different categories.

Tension headaches are the most common form of primary headache, characterized by a dull ache with a constant pressure that stays around the front, top and sides of the head. People often describe this feeling as being like a rubber band has been stretched around the head.

Migraines are also classified as a primary headache. There are a number of different phases of a migraine attack. The first is known as the ‘prodrome’ or ‘warning’ stage, in which a child may develop an unusual hunger or thirst and a loss of energy. They may also develop excess energy.

The next stage is known as the ‘aura’. It is estimated that around 20% of children who experience a migraine will sometimes experience neurological symptoms. Children usually experience these symptoms as visual disturbances such as flashing lights, blurred vision and blind spots. Occasionally, children may experience less common symptoms, which may include pins and needles. Migraines that are experienced with such symptoms are referred to as ‘migraines with aura’. This part of a migraine attack can last up to 30 minutes for children and usually comes before any headache or migraine. Abdominal pain is another possible symptom of migraines in children, and may be misdiagnosed or mistaken for a stomach bug or infection.

Children in the main stage of a migraine attack may also experience:

  • Increased sensitivity to light, smells and sound
  • Aches, pains and excessive tiredness
  • Dizziness
  • Feelings of nausea and/or vomiting

The next stage is known as the ‘postdrome’ or ‘resolution’ stage in which pain will gradually ease or disappear after a sleep. If a child vomits, this also often eases the pain associated with an attack. The final stage of an attack is known as the recovery stage, in which children begin to feel better. This is different for each individual and can take up to 48 hours.


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