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Headaches

What is a headache?

A headache is pain or discomfort in the head or face area. Headaches can be single or recurrent in nature, and localized to one or more areas of the head and face.

What causes a headache?

The exact cause of headaches is not completely understood. It is thought that many headaches are the result of tight muscles and dilated, or expanded, blood vessels in the head. Other headaches may be caused by an actual problem in the brain, such as a tumor or malformation of the brain, although this is much less common.

The way a child exhibits a headache may be related to many factors, such as genetics, hormones, stress, diet, medications, and dehydration. Recurrent headaches of any type can cause school problems, behavioral problems, and/or depression.

What are the different types of headaches?

There are many different ways to classify headaches. One method divides headaches into two categories:

What are the symptoms of a headache?

The child may have varying degrees of symptoms associated with the severity of the headache depending on the type of headache. Some headaches may be more serious. Symptoms that may suggest a more serious underlying cause of the headache may include the following:

The symptoms of a headache may resemble other conditions or medical problems. Always consult your child's physician for a diagnosis.

How are headaches diagnosed?

The full extent of the problem may not be completely understood immediately, but may be revealed with a comprehensive medical evaluation and diagnostic testing. The diagnosis of a headache is made with a careful history and physical examination and diagnostic tests. During the examination, the physician obtains a complete medical history of the child and family.

Questions commonly asked during the examination may include the following:

If the history is consistent with migraine or tension type headaches and the neurological exam is normal, no further diagnostic testing may be necessary.

Other diagnostic tests may include:

Treatment for headaches: Specific treatment for headaches will be determined by your child's physician based on:

The ultimate goal of treatment is to stop the headache from occurring. Medical management relies on the proper identification of the type of headache and may include:

Migraine headaches may require specific medication management including:

Some headaches may require immediate medical attention including hospitalization for observation, diagnostic testing, or even surgery. Treatment is individualized depending on the extent of the underlying condition that is causing the child's headache. The extent of the child's recovery is individualized depending upon the type of headache and other medical problems that may be present.

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