Abdominal Migraine

An abdominal migraine is a form of migraine that affects a person’s stomach instead of the normal head pain.  Abdominal migraines are mostly seen in children under the age of 10.  Children who get abdominal migraines tend to have this condition later in life evolve into normal migraines. 

Children with family members who get migraines are more at risk to get abdominal migraines.  The cause of an abdominal migraine is unknown, but is thought to be something between the connection between brain and GI tract.  Things like stress, being worried, chocolate, processed meats, foods with monosodium glutamate, swallowing too much air, motion sickness, lack of sleep, hunger, or flickering lights could all be triggers for abdominal migraines.  



Episodes of abdominal migraines can last from 1 to 72 hours.  There are no symptoms in between episodes.  The main symptoms is an ache or cramp in the middle of the stomach around the belly button area.  Other symptoms can include nausea, vomiting, loss of appetite, pale skin, fatigue, diarrhea, and sensitivity to light or sound.  Intensity of symptoms can range from moderate to severe.  



There is no one specific test to diagnose abdominal migraines.  This can make diagnosing them extremely hard.  Children sometimes have a hard time communicating what their stomach pain feels like and where it is hurting.  Which can lead to some difficulty in diagnosing.  Abdominal migraines can be misdiagnosed for other GI tract conditions.  First the doctor will want to take your child’s medical history as well as your families.  Abdominal migraines seem to run in families that have adults who suffer from migraines.  For your doctor to consider abdominal migraines as a diagnosis, your child will have to meet all of these criteria.  

  1. 5 attacks of abdominal pain lasting 1 to 72 hours
  2. Dull pain or ache around the belly button
  3. At least 2 of these other symptoms; appetite loss, nausea, vomiting, or pale skin. 
  4. No other evidence of another GI condition or kidney disease

Once your doctor has checked your child for this criteria they may have a better understanding of what is causing your child’s stomach pain.  Your doctor may need to do further testing to rule out other conditions such as GERD, Crohn’s disease, IBS, bowel blockage, peptic ulcer, kidney disease, or cholecystitis.  



There is no actual treatment plan for abdominal migraines.  The goal of treatment is to reduce symptoms. 

One treatment is to take nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs such as ibuprofen to help with pain.  Beta blockers may also help lower blood pressure and decrease the severity of the abdominal migraine.  Triptan migraine drugs are an option but are only approved for use on children over the age of 6.  There are some migraine prevention medications your child can take daily such as propranolol or topiramate. 

Lifestyle changes can also help alleviate symptoms, and stop episodes from happening.  Make sure your child is getting enough sleep at night.  Drinking enough water.  Eating a nutritious diet.  Exercising frequently.  Learn to manage stress in a healthy way.  Keep track with a food diary.  This may help notice any trigger foods that you can in the future avoid.  



With any stomach condition that can cause vomiting and diarrhea one of the main things to watch out for is dehydration.  Children can become dehydrated quickly.  Making sure they replenish fluids after an episode is important.  Hydration therapy can also be a treatment option to help replenish fluids your child may have lost.  



Since the cause of abdominal migraines is unknown a sure way to prevent them is unknown as well.  Making sure to keep a healthy lifestyle with enough sleep, don’t skip meals, and eat when hungry can help prevent episodes.  Staying away from certain foods like chocolate, caffeine, foods with nitrates can also help prevent abdominal migraines.  

Kids usually grow out of abdominal migraines within a year of two of them first occurring.  Seventy percent of children who have abdominal migraines will have migraine headaches when they get older.  Abdominal migraines are not dangerous, though they can get in the way of school and everyday life.  They can be distressing to your child.  Usually abdominal migraines stop during adolescents.  


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