Headaches in children

Headaches are one of the most common complaints in children. More than 50% of children and teenagers will have headache at some point in their life, although recurrent and daily headaches will be found in 30% and 2-5% of children, respectively. A primary headache, like a migraine or a tension headache, can occur on its own while a secondary headache is normally tied to another illness or from head trauma.

Having a close family member that experiences headaches can give a child a genetic tendency to also experience them, but headaches can also be caused by a variety of triggers, such as:

  • Dehydration
  • Lack of sleep
  • Allergies (seasonal or food)
  • Anxiety and stress related to school or family social issues
  • Depression
  • Too much screen time

Some children may have a migraine variant where headache is not the main symptom. Instead, it may present with abdominal pain, frequent vomiting, dizziness, vertigo, confusion or total or partial paralysis of one side of the body.  Different triggers affect each person, and no two headaches are exactly the same. In most cases, headaches aren’t a sign of a larger issue, but if your child experiences headaches frequently, you should talk to their doctor.

Most of the time, your child’s physician can diagnosis headaches clinically, without testing, but occasionally brain imaging or blood work is needed. A majority of headaches in children can be treated in the moment with over-the-counter pain medication and prevented by learning what their triggers are and avoiding them. This may include staying hydrated, getting good sleep, limiting screen time, removing allergens or treating allergies, addressing anxiety with behavioral therapy, dietary supplements and, in some cases, preventive medications. The group of neurologists, psychologists, nutritionists and physical therapists at Cone Health Child Neurology, are dedicated to helping manage headaches in children.

Spokesperson Background:

Dr. Reza Nabizadeh is a pediatric neurologist at Cone Health Child Neurology. Dr. Nabizadeh earned his Doctor of Medicine at Mashad University of Medical Sciences in Iran in 1992. He completed a pediatric residency and pediatric neurology fellowship at Floating Hospital for Children at Tufts Medical Center in Boston, MA in 2013.