When A Stomach Ache Isn’t Just A Stomach Ache

Adults aren’t the only ones who experience migraines. In fact, 10 percent of children experience migraines in the US.

However, kids sometimes experience migraines differently than adults do. Their developing bodies can be extra sensitive to food, chemicals, and stress. The result is a unique condition: the abdominal migraine.

What Is An Abdominal Migraine?

Migraines don’t always start at the temples or base of the neck. In fact, an abdominal migraine begins — you guessed it — in the abdomen. Like other migraines, abdominal migraines are recurring and behave similarly each episode.

These migraines start as a moderate to severe pain in the middle of the stomach, near the belly button. The soreness will often come with other symptoms, including feeling faint or nauseous. If you suspect your child is suffering from abdominal migraines, ask them where they start to feel the pain. A common complaint is soreness in the stomach area.

Abdominal migraines affect children as well as adults with family histories of migraines. Many children with abdominal migraine episodes develop other forms of migraines when they enter adulthood.

Research shows the condition largely affects children two to ten years old. Girls are more likely to have abdominal migraines than boys, and the condition is rarer in adults.

What Are the Symptoms of Abdominal Migraine?

Depending on the severity of the episode, abdominal migraines can last from two hours to three days. This blog post by WebMD further addresses the episodes. Usually, the migraineur experiences:

  • Nausea
  • Vomiting
  • Dizziness
  • Drowsiness
  • Dark shadows under the eyes
  • Abdominal pain
  • Loss of appetite
  • Pale skin


A traditional migraine headache doesn’t accompany most of these attacks. They often come suddenly, giving the child little time to prepare for its severity.

Abdominal migraines and other intestinal problems share symptoms. Because of this, abdominal migraines are often underdiagnosed. However, be sure to ask your child’s doctor about other possible conditions, including diabetic ketoacidosis or urinary tract infections.

What Triggers an Abdominal Migraine?

The cause of abdominal migraines is largely unknown, but many researchers believe the condition is linked to foods, chemicals, and stress. Additionally, many doctors think that the migraines are caused by shifting hormone levels. Still others believe that the migraines are genetic in nature. Indeed, about 60 percent of children with abdominal migraines have family members who experience other forms of migraines.

Read more about common foods, including MSG and excess sugar, that trigger migraines. Consider keeping a food diary or helping your child keep one to observe potential triggers overtime. Chinese food, processed meats, chewing gum, and chocolate tend to be common culprits.

Alternative Treatments

Treating this disease isn’t easy. However, addressing the issue in childhood is important to prevent further attacks later in life.

Medications for abdominal migraines are limited, and I don’t recommend parents place their children on medication long-term. Instead, focus on what your child eats. In addition to keeping a food diary, ask your doctor to perform an allergy test on your child. The elimination diet will help you identify trigger foods.

Make sure you talk to your child’s teachers and school nurse about their experiences. Leaving the classroom to a cool, dark room may help lessen some of the symptoms.

Finally, find ways to monitor your child’s stress. Each child will be different. However, encouraging playtime, exercise, consistent routines, and time management can help children thrive.



  1. Abdominal Migraines in Children-Medicinenet.com
  2. Abdominal Headaches-WebMD
  3. Chemical Warfare in The Body Substances that make your head hurt-YourMigrainedoctor.com
  4. Kids Korner
  5. BMJ