Living with Migraines

By Gremlyn Bradley-Waddell

It’s tough enough being a kid nowadays; no child should have to deal with migraine headaches, too. 
But many youngsters do and they also deal with the other anguish migraines can cause, such as missed school days and plunging grades. The good news, says pediatric neurologist Tamara Zach, M.D., of Banner Children’s at Banner Thunderbird Medical Center in Glendale, is there are effective treatments — and the earlier a child gets help, the better. 
“It’s a common misconception that you have to live with these headaches,” she says, adding it is important that parents make sure children get medical help before their schoolwork begins to decline. “If your child is having migraine headaches, get a referral to a neurologist early on. Don’t wait.” 
Her approach is to give young migraine sufferers preventive medicine three to four times a week, depending on their age and other health concerns. Once they’ve stabilized and broken the migraine cycle, she’ll suggest switching to vitamins, such as vitamin B12 or co-enzyme Q10. “I’ve had many patients I’m able to take off medications entirely,” she says. 
One reason professional help is necessary is to avoid “medication overuse” that Zach often sees in patients. This occurs when well-meaning parents give a child over-the-counter medication, which subsequently gets overused (more than twice a week) because of frequent migraines. Medication overuse can lead to depression and other problems, she says, which is why a doctor’s counsel is so critical. 
Although no one knows exactly what brings on a migraine, numerous triggers seem to prompt them, says Jay Cook, M.D., a pediatric neurologist for Banner Children’s at Cardon Children’s Medical Center in Mesa. Triggers include processed meats, and sometimes cheeses, shellfish, perfumes, MSG (monosodium glutamate), stress, hormonal changes, poor eating habits and dehydration. 
That last trigger is of special concern for Valley migraine sufferers, because it is so hot and dry in the Phoenix area, Zach says. Because so many young patients are active in sports, she recommends they drink three to four bottles of water each day and at least one sports drink to replace lost electrolytes. And anyone, of any age, who’s experiencing a migraine should immediately drink a bottle of water and a sports drink. 
“It can help out,” she notes.

Anatomy of a Migraine

A migraine headache may feel like it comes out of nowhere, but there are typically four phases, Zach says:

  • Prodrome: This phase may occur one or two days before the patient begins feeling headache pain and can include symptoms of fatigue. 
  • Aura: Zach says some patients may see lights or dark spots in their peripheral vision, have blurred vision or dizziness, nausea, overwhelming fatigue, difficulty concentrating or any combination of these symptoms. 
  • Headache: Adult patients tend to feel a migraine in the form of throbbing pain on one side of the head; they can last at least two hours and as long as four days. Children feel a migraine at the front of the head or by the temples and it may last as little as one hour to as long as three days. Symptoms for both adults and children include nausea, sensitivity to light and sound, and vomiting, although youngsters are less likely to throw up. 
  • Postdrome: Even after a headache is mostly gone, symptoms such as exhaustion and depression may continue for several hours or even several days.
For info, go to Banner Health, search ‘migraine.'
For more information about Dr. Tamara Zach and Dr. Jay Cook, visit Banner Health.