Migraine in Children and Teenagers 1

Migraine in Children and Teenagers

We often hear our adult friends complaining about having severe migraines and how it affects their daily lives. While this condition is more prevalent in adults, did you know that children and teenagers can suffer from migraine as well?

In fact, there are around 8% of school-aged children suffering from migraine in Singapore, and globally, up to 10% of school-aged children are affected. Children may even start experiencing migraines at a younger age– however, most of them are only diagnosed after 5 years old due to their inability to describe symptoms accurately . 

The ratio of female to male suffering from  migraine flips over when puberty hits, that is, migraine affects more young ladies than guys in adolescents. More on this later.

What is a migraine?

Migraine is a type of recurring headache. It is characterised by throbbing or pulsating pain on one or both sides of the head. Older teens tend to have migraines at one side of the head. Whereas in younger children, the headache is more likely to be on both sides. Migraine attacks usually last for hours to days and often worsen with activities.

Accompanied symptoms 

Migraine is usually accompanied by some symptoms, which include but not limited to

  • Nausea
  • Vomiting
  • Dizziness
  • Sensitivity to lights, sound, odors, or sometimes even normal touch
  • Abdominal pain
  • Moody or irritable
  • Loss of appetite

Some people may get auras, which are some neurological symptoms that happen prior to migraine. These symptoms can last for up to 1 hour.

Examples of auras include:

  • Blurred vision
  • Seeing flashes of lights, bright spots, various shapes or lines
  • Numbness or tingling sensation in the fingers or part of the face

The causes in a TCM point of view

In TCM, the Liver and Gall bladder are known as a pair of zangfu organs (肝胆相表里).Gall Bladder meridian (胆经) connects with Liver meridian (肝经) and it passes through two sides of the head. Therefore, migraine is usually linked with the Liver and Gall Bladder.

Why does migraine occur in children and teenagers?

Children/teenagers have a unique body constitution in comparison with adults, where the Liver is usually in excess (肝常有余). However, there are some commonly seen factors that put even more stress onto the Liver. They include hectic lifestyles, going to bed late at night, overuse of electronics, and stress from studies. 

These factors contribute to the rise of Liver Heat and Liver Yang, which in turn, causes blockage in the Gall Bladder meridian. As the TCM quote goes “When there is stagnation, there will be pain” (不通则痛), hence migraine occurs.

Why is there a prevalence in females?

Females rely more on the Liver’s function than males do (女子以肝为先天) as they go through  menstruation, pregnancy, and giving birth. Therefore, Liver Qi stagnation easily occurs in females, and turns into Liver Heat over time. When females enter puberty and have menstruation, Liver tends to become undernourished due to the loss of blood.This in turn can cause Liver Yang to become less controlled and easily triggered.

Common migraine triggers

On the other hand, modern medicine suggests that migraine is a neurological disorder which affects the brain, nerves, and blood vessels. This disorder is caused by the release of chemicals in the brain due to the irritation from environmental and emotional triggers. Children who have migraines are more susceptible to these irritations and triggers compared to other individuals.  

Here are some common migraine triggers:

  • Stress
  • Hormonal changes (menstruation, oral contraception use, menopause)
  • Inadequate or too much sleep
  • Skipping meals
  • Dehydration
  • Weather changes
  • Glaring lights
  • Strong odors
  • Alcohol
  • Foods with monosodium glutamate (MSG)
  • Drinks with caffeine (coffee, tea, colas)
  • Foods with nitrates and nitrites (found in preserved meats)
  • Foods with tyramine (found in aged cheese)

Therefore, one should try to or help his/her children to avoid these triggers to prevent migraine recurring.

Tips for resolving migraine

Here are some tips to help with resolving migraines Parents may apply these tips to help your children alleviate the effects of migraines and reduce its occurrence. Acupressure

There are some acupoints that can help with resolving migraines.

Migraine in Children and Teenagers 2 v3

Head: 太阳 (Tai Yang, EX-HN5),风池 (Feng Chi, GB20),率谷 (Shuai Gu, GB8)

Hands: 外关 (Wai Guan, SJ 05),合谷 (He Gu, LI4)

Lower limbs: 足三重 (Zu San Zhong),侧三里 (Ce San Li),侧下三里 (Ce Xia Xia Li)

Rub in circular motions for 2 to 3 minutes whenever you feel unwell. Soreness should be felt at the acupoints when rubbing.

Rest

Get a good rest in a dark, quiet, and cool  room.  Lie down and try to get some sleep. This action can calm your mind down and resolve migraines. 

Tea

Here are some tea recipes to help prevent migraines. Consume the tea twice a week for a better result.

*The amount below is suitable for those above 7 years old. For children 5~7 years old, reduce the amount below by half. Rock sugar can be added for better taste.

Migraine in Children and Teenagers 3

Ingredients:

  • Cassia seed (决明子, Jue Ming Zi) 10g
  • Goji berry (枸杞, Gou Qi) 6g
  • White chrysanthemum (白菊, Bai Ju) 6g

Instructions: 

  1. Insert the cassia seeds in a tea bag.
  2. Place all the ingredients in a teapot.
  3. Add boiling water and let it steep for 5 minutes.
Migraine in Children and Teenagers 4

Ingredients:

  • Mulberry leaf (桑叶, Sang Ye) 5g
  • White chrysanthemum (白菊, Bai Ju) 5g
  • Apocynum venetum (罗布麻叶, Luo Bu Ma Ye) 5g
  • Prunella vulgaris (夏枯草, Xia Ku Cao) 5g

Instructions:

  1. Place the ingredients required in a teapot.
  2. Add boiling water and let it steep for 5 minutes.

Herbal chicken soup

Consume once a fortnight or whenever migraine hits. Suitable for all ages.

Ingredients: (for 4~5 pax)

  • Whole Chicken, 1kg
  • Gastrodia elata (天麻, Tian Ma) 15g
  • Ligusticum striatum (川芎, Chuan Xiong) 15g
  • Red dates (红枣, Hong Zao) 10g
  • Goji berry (枸杞, Gou Qi) 6g
  • Old ginger (姜, Jiang) 6g
  • Salt, half teaspoon

Instructions:

  1. Rinse all the ingredients with water, clean the chicken and remove any remaining innards or unwanted parts.
  2. Break the red dates into halves or cut into slices.
  3. Slice the old ginger into thin slices.
  4. Place all ingredients as required into a soup pot.
  5. Pour in an adequate amount of water until it covers all the ingredients.
  6. Boil with high heat, turn to medium-low heat after boiling, and skim off the foam.
  7. Turn off the heat after 1 hour. Season with salt.

TCM Treatments

Do consult a physician if your migraines keep occurring or if the pain escalates beyond what you can manage with the self-help tips.

Some treatments that TCM uses to treat migraines include:

  • Herbal Medication  
  • Pediatric tuina (for children below 7 years old)
  • Acupuncture (for older kids)
  • Vacuum cupping  

However, there is no “one size fits all” treatment plan, a consultation with a physician is recommended to more accurately diagnose your body condition and constitution to best tackle the cause of these migraines.

Note: Information provided is not a substitute for a physician or any form of medical care. Individual symptoms differ due to different body constitutions and diagnosis. One should consult a licensed TCM practitioner for accurate diagnosis and treatment.




ABOUT THE AUTHOR

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Physician Hao Li

TCM Physician

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