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Chronic Headache in Children

Chronic headache in children

  • Incidence
  • Symptoms of migraine in children
  • Symptoms of tension headaches in children


Like adults, children suffer from headaches.

Headaches are common with 30% – 50% of children in middle childhood and 50% – 60% of adolescents under 15 years of age experiencing headaches. Ten percent of experience headaches that are severe enough to interfere with daily activity.

In early childhood, boys are more likely to develop recurrent headache. However, after puberty, girls are more likely to experience headaches.

Migraine headaches are fairly common in children.

They begin in middle childhood, with 1% – 3% experiencing headaches at 7 years of age, to 5% -10% at age 10 – 15 years. About half of these adolescents outgrow their headaches in adulthood. 1, 4, 5. Younger children have difficulty expressing their symptoms, so it may be more helpful to observe their behaviour when the headaches occur. Migraine may be inherited, so there may be other affected members in the family.

Symptoms of migraine in children

  1. The aura
    • A strange smell
    • Seeing flashes of lights or zig-zag patterns
    • Hearing strange sounds, like a ringing sound in the ears
    • Unpleasant sensations over the skin
    • Intense nausea, or vomiting
  2. Some children with migraine may notice premonitory symptoms that herald or precede the headache. This is known as the This may take the form of :
  3. The headache
    The typical migraine headache is described as throbbing, severe headache that usually begins in the back of the head and gradually spreads forwards to involve the forehead.Some children may experience pain that is one-sided, but other experience pain all over the head. These headaches may last from one hour to three days.
  4. Associated symptoms
  5. Children who are experiencing a migraine headache usually withdraw from activity at home and even in school. Some prefer just to go to sleep. Others may avoid bright areas or loud places, preferring to rest in a quiet, darkened room.

  6. Precipitating factors Some children with migraine describe events or situations that may bring on the headaches. These precipitating factors include :
    • Certain foods
    • Excessive tiredness
    • Lack of sleep
    • Travel

Symptoms of tension headaches in children

Older children with tension headaches describe a dull pain over the forehead and temple, resembling a ‘band’ of pain around the scalp. These headaches typically occur towards the end of the day and may last for hours.

They should go away after a period of rest, or sleep. Children with tension headaches do not describe precipitating factors, experience an aura or have associated symptoms.

Last reviewed : 25 January 2008
Content Writer : Dr. Terrance Thomas
    Dr. Irene Cheah Guat Sim
    Dr. Umathevi Paramasivam