Migraines in kids and teens are more common than you think, but they rarely look like they do in adults. I started having migraines when I was 16 and it took a while for them to figure out what was going on. What’s more, a lot of the drugs used to treat and prevent migraines in adults aren’t considered safe for children and adolescents, so treatment options are limited.
I can’t remember exactly how or when my migraines started. I just remember, somewhere in the fall of my junior year of high school, suddenly becoming a walking headache. I also started having severe insomnia, which only fed my migraines. At the time I was seeing an orthopedic specialist at CHKD for a back injury, and I mentioned once to him about my head hurting all the time. After ruling out a concussion, I was sent to a pediatric neurologist.
After a thorough evaluation by the ped neuro, I was sent home with a diagnosis of chronic migraine and a script for Topomax, as well as something to help me sleep. When the doc first said “migraine” I thought he was off his rocker. My head hurt, yes. It hurt bad. It hurt bad all the time. But I always thought a migraine could only be an unbearably painful headache that came along with nausea, vomiting and dizziness. I thought he must be wrong–my headaches are bad but they aren’t that bad.
Well I started Topomax as the doc instructed. It helped my headaches but it was a steep price to pay. I was always so sleepy and struggled to keep my head up in class. I started having a hard time with concentration and memory that I had never had before. My grades dropped. My bones became more brittle and I repeatedly broke fingers playing basketball. I even had kidney stones once. At the time I had no idea that Topomax was causing all of these problems; I was on it for nearly two years. When I came off of it because my headaches were doing better, it was like coming inside after being out in the dark for hours. I hadn’t even realized how miserable I was, or what was causing that misery, until I was able to step away from it.
After I realized what Topomax had been doing to me, I was super mad at the doc for putting me on it in the first place, but now I understand why he did. There are so very, very few drug options that are considered safe for those under 18 to use. The meds I’m on now for my migraines, for example–none of them are approved for use in under-eighteens. Still, there are treatment options available, and when all’s said and done I think being on something like Topomax is much better than getting no help at all.
To help us better understand the types of migraines and similar headache disorders found in children, their symptoms and their treatment options, the Diamond Headache Clinic has made this neat presentation and been kind enough to share: