A study in the journal Headache says that kids who suffer from severe and unexplained abdominal pain maybe suffering from abdominal migraines. Currently, the American Academy of Pediatrics reports that nine to 15 out of 100 kids and teens have chronic abdominal pain.
Researchers in the study reviewed the medical charts of more than 450 such kids and teens who went to a gastroenterology clinic and checked the kids’ symptoms against a list of criteria for abdominal migraine. How do you diagnose an abdominal migraine? Patients must have at least five attacks of abdominal pain that last at least an hour, pain in the middle of the belly, nausea, vomiting, and paleness. Attacks can last up to 72 hours.
The diagnosis usually comes after all other alternatives have been explored and it is more common outside of the United States:
“There are lots of kids that have recurring unexplained abdominal pain, and when a kid is continually having these bouts of pain, sometimes there’s no obvious cause found,” said Dr. Donald Lewis from the division of pediatric neurology at the Children’s Hospital of the King’s Daughters in Norfolk, Virginia.
One cause rarely considered is an abdominal migraine, Lewis, who co-authored the study, told Reuters Health. It affects about two out of 100 kids and is usually treated with painkillers and diet, he said.
Abdominal migraine is a common diagnosis in Europe and the U.K., but it’s not made in the U.S. very often, Lewis told Reuters Health. “A lot of health care providers don’t know this exists.
Just as the typical migraine headache is often poorly understood, the top theory is that “abnormal cell activity along certain brain pathways triggers pain and blood vessel changes in the head.” Likewise, Lewis says that “an abdominal migraine is the same thing as a migraine in the head, but instead it’s felt in the stomach. Kids generally outgrow them, but many do go on to have migraine headaches as adults.”
Parents shouldn’t worry too much about the severity of the condition, says Dr. George Russell, a retired professor of child health at the University of Aberdeen in Scotland. Many parents of children with abdominal migraines assume the condition is serious, because the kids “look ghastly pale, usually. It’s no more life-threatening than a migraine, but equally unpleasant and uncomfortable.”
Children should avoid foods that often trigger typical migraines: cheese, chocolate, caffeine, citrus fruits, and Chinese food, among others. Russell also advises sleeping off the pain accompanied by pain medications if necessary.
Perhaps the most intriguing parts of the story is that abdominal migraines have been known in the U.K. for years. “Hopefully, this will alert people who take care of kids that maybe the reason that the fifteenth antacid hasn’t worked is that it might be something else,” Lewis said.
Has your child ever experienced unexplained abdominal pain? Have you heard of abdominal migraines before?