Abdominal Migraine in Children

  • Medical Author:
    Melissa Conrad Stöppler, MD

    Melissa Conrad Stöppler, MD, is a U.S. board-certified Anatomic Pathologist with subspecialty training in the fields of Experimental and Molecular Pathology. Dr. Stöppler's educational background includes a BA with Highest Distinction from the University of Virginia and an MD from the University of North Carolina. She completed residency training in Anatomic Pathology at Georgetown University followed by subspecialty fellowship training in molecular diagnostics and experimental pathology.

  • Medical Editor: Bhupinder Anand, MD
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What causes abdominal migraine?

The cause of abdominal migraine is poorly understood. Abdominal migraine is thought by some researchers to be related to neurologic or endocrinologic changes and may be caused by alterations in the levels of serotonin and histamine in the body. Genetic factors may also be involved as the condition is more common in children who have a family history of migraine. About 60% of children with the condition have a positive family history for migraine.

Triggers for abdominal migraine have been described, similar to triggers for classic migraine. These include chocolate or nitrite-containing foods, stress, and anxiety.

What are the symptoms of abdominal migraine?

As mentioned, abdominal migraine causes pain in the abdomen that can be severe and debilitating. It is typically located in the middle portion of the belly, often around the umbilicus. Cramping, nausea, and vomiting can accompany the pain. Pallor (paleness) of the skin is often observed. There may not be associated headache. The symptoms are usually relieved by sleep and can last anywhere from one hour to several days.

How is abdominal migraine diagnosed?

Because of the frequent absence of headache, the condition can be difficult to diagnose, especially during the first episode. There is no specific test that can establish the diagnosis of abdominal migraine, so the diagnosis is based on exclusion of other conditions. Laboratory tests and imaging studies are usually directed to rule out other conditions that could be responsible for the symptoms. Electroencephalography (EEG) is sometimes done to rule out a seizure disorder as the cause of the symptoms.

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