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Let's Study Kids' Head Pain: Symptoms, Diagnosis, Triggers, Treatment

Diagnosing Children's Head Pain


Updated: December 1, 2003

Child with headache

    Headaches may be symptoms of other physical conditions. For that reason, it is VITAL that they be properly diagnosed.

Chronic daily headaches... Tension-type headaches... Migraine... Sinus headache... Fever headache... the list goes on. When we think about it, that's no surprise because it's the same list we could make for adults. The problems adults face in handling children's headaches are multiple:

  • Their symptoms may be different
  • They may be too young to communicate their symptoms and needs
  • Children haven't the experience or knowledge to understand what's going on and tell us
  • Other adults who care for our children may not recognize or understand our children's headache symptoms 

The first step in dealing with children's headaches must be diagnosis. If a child who has previously only had an occasional headache, say twice a month, begins having headaches more frequently, they should be seen by their doctor as soon as possible. With very young children, this is difficult because you often can't tell what is bothering them. Generally, if a young child is crying, not eating, irritable, restless, sleeping too much or too little, it's time to have them checked by their doctor.

If you take away only ONE piece of information from this article, please let it be this one:

    Headaches may be symptoms of other physical conditions. For that reason, it is VITAL that they be properly diagnosed.


The Diagnostic Process:

Information is the most critical beginning step toward diagnosis. The child's medical history, including family medical history, is crucial. It would be helpful to consider this and make notes to take to the appointment with you. Is there a history of headaches in your family? Has the child ever experienced a head injury or serious illness? 

Keeping a diary of the symptoms and circumstances of the child's headaches will help your doctor. If you'd like to print our download a headache diary, click here. Where is the pain located? Does it come on suddenly and severely or start with mild pain then build? Does your child have unusual visual symptoms with the headache? Do the headaches occur after eating certain foods? These are just some of the questions your doctor will ask.

Your doctor will conduct a full examination to look for various things, including:

  • any neurological signs that could contribute to headaches

  • infection

  • balance, inner ear, or vision problems

  • unusual blood pressure levels

  • muscle weakness

If your family doctor or pediatrician cannot find the source of the headaches and they continue, he or she may refer you to a neurologist or headache specialist for consultation and treatment. Although only less than 5% of children's headaches are caused by serious problems such as blood clots, meningitis, abscess, or tumor, your doctor may need to run some diagnostic tests to rule out these conditions. Those tests may include an MRI or CT scan. If your doctor suggests these tests, please don't let that increase your worries. Remember that 5% figure.

>> Please click the link below to continue to page 2: Tension-Type Headache and Kids.<<

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  3. Headaches & Migraines
  4. Headaches 101
  5. Headache Education
  6. Let's Study Kids' Head Pain; Symptoms, Diagnosis, Triggers, Treatment. About Headaches and Migraine

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