Donald W.Lewis, MD
Migraine is a chronic, progressive, and debilitating disorder that has an impact on the
lives of millions of individuals. The origins of the disability can be traced into childhood
and adolescence for most adult migraine sufferers.1Accurate diagnosis and aggres-
sive treatment interventions during childhood and adolescence are essential to
prevent the decades of suffering and diminished quality of life that are directly attribut-
able to migraine. Adequately addressing migraine during adolescence has as much
importance on the patient’s overall well-being as providing immunizations and weight
Diagnosing migraine in children can be a particular challenge. The clinical manifes-
tations of migraine vary widely through childhood because the disorder may be
expressed differently or incompletely. Mimickers of migraine alsoemerge during child-
hood to complicate the diagnostic landscape. Such entities as mitochondrial or
metabolic disorders, epilepsy syndromes, vascular disorders, and congenital malfor-
mations may present with episodic symptoms, including headache. In addition, the
medical history can be limited by the child’s inability to articulate the symptoms,
coupled with parental interpretation, distortion, and editorial. Furthermore, children
are often brought for medical evaluation at the onset of transient neurologic, auto-
nomic, gastrointestinal, or visual symptoms, before the characteristic recurrent
pattern is established, and, curiously, headache may not be the primary symptom.
The key aspect to recognizing the spectrum of migraine in children is to appreciate
that migraine is an episodic disorder separated by symptom-free intervals.
The purpose of this article is to review the clinical manifestations and management
options for migraine in children and adolescents, with an emphasis on those entities
peculiar to young children. All pharmacologic comment is ‘‘off-label.’’
Headaches are common during childhood. Bille’s landmark epidemiologic survey
conducted in the 1950s in Sweden of 6000 school children found that the prevalence
of generic ‘‘headache’’ ranged from 37% to 51% in 7-year-old children and gradually
The author has received research grant support from Ortho McNeil Neurologics, Abbott
Laboratories, Glaxo Smith Kline, Merck, Astra Zeneca, and American Home Products.
Department of Pediatrics, Children’s Hospital of The King’s Daughters, Eastern Virginia Medical
School, 601 Children’s Lane, Norfolk, VA 23507, USA
E-mail address: email@example.com
? Migraine ? Headache ? Children ? Adolescents
Neurol Clin 27 (2009) 481–501
0733-8619/08/$ – see front matter ª 2009 Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.
rose to 57% to 82% by adolescence.2Frequent or recurring patterns of headache, of
which migraine represents a significant subset, occurred in 2.5% of 7-year-olds and in
up to 15% of 15-year-olds.
Subsequent epidemiologic studies have found that the prevalence of migraine
headache steadily increases through childhood, peaking in adolescence. Depending
on the diagnostic criteria used, the prevalence increases from 3% in the preschool
years, to 4% to 11% by the elementary school years, and then up to 8% to 23% during
the high school years. Before puberty, boys have more headaches than girls, but after
puberty, migraine headaches occur more frequently in girls.3–5
The incidence of migraine peaks earlier in boys than in girls.6The mean age of onset
of migraine is 7 years for boys and 11 years for girls; the gender ratio also shifts during
the adolescent years (Table 1). The incidence of migraine with aura peaks earlier than
the incidence of migraine without aura.5–13
Classification of Pediatric Migraine
The International Classification of Headache Disorders for migraine is shown in Box 1
and is available on-line (14).
There are three primary groups:
1. Migraine without aura (formerly common migraine)
2. Migraine with aura (formerly classic migraine)
3. Childhood ‘‘periodic syndromes’’ that are commonly precursors of migraine
Notably absent in the 2004 classification system are several clinical entities peculiar
to childhood, such as ‘‘Alice in Wonderland’’ syndrome, benign paroxysmal torticollis,
confusional migraine, and ophthalmoplegic migraine (OM), which are discussed for
This is the most frequent form of migraine in children and adolescents (60%–85% of
cases). The diagnostic criteria are shown in Box 2 and include three modifications to
increase sensitivity of diagnosis for children: brief duration (1–72 hours), bilateral or
bifrontal location (age <15 years), and the inference of photophobia and phonophobia
by behavioral response rather than verbal report.
The key feature of migraine with aura in children is episodes of intense disabling
headache separated by symptom-free intervals. The criteria require at least five
distinct attacks lasting 1 to 72 hours and permit attacks to be briefer than in adults
(range: 4–72 hours). The location of the pain may be unilateral or, in children younger
than 15 years of age, bilateral (bifrontal or bitemporal). The quality of pain is typically
pulsing or throbbing, a symptom that may require specific questioning in young chil-
dren. By definition, the pain is moderate to intense and aggravated by routine physical
activity, such as walking or climbing stairs. The accompanying associated autonomic
Prevalence of migraine headache through childhood
Gender ratioBoys > girlsBoys 5 girlsGirls > boys
Migraine without aura
Migraine with aura
Typical aura with migraine headache
Typical aura with nonmigraine headache
Typical aura without headache
Familial hemiplegic migraine
Sporadic hemiplegic migraine
Childhood periodic syndromes that are commonly precursors of migraine
Benign paroxysmal vertigo of childhood
Complications of migraine
Persistent aura without infarction
Diagnostic criteria forpediatricmigrainewithout aura
A. At least five attacks fulfilling criteria B through D
B. Headache attacks lasting 1 to 72 hours
C. Headache has at least two of the following characteristics:
1. Unilateral location, which may be bilateral or frontotemporal (not occipital)
2. Pulsing quality
3. Moderate or severe pain intensity
4. Aggravation by or causing avoidance of routine physical activity (eg, walking, climbing
D. During the headache, at least one of the following:
1. Nausea or vomiting
2. Photophobia and phonophobia, which may be inferred from a child’s behavior
E. Not attributed to another disorder
features (nausea, vomiting, photophobia, and phonophobia) may be as disabling as
the pain. The latter two features may be inferred by the patient’s behavior if the child
withdraws to a quiet dark place during the attack. The International Headache Society
(IHS) criteria wisely also state that the headache must ‘‘not attributed to another
disorder,’’ implying that the prudent physician should carefully consider other possible
causes for the recurrent headaches.
MIGRAINE WITH AURA
The disorders within the migraine with aura spectrum reflect the concept that the focal
symptoms, such as visual disruptions, hemiparesis, and aphasia, are manifestations of
the regional neuronal depolarization and oligemia caused by cortical spreading depres-
sion (CSD). Clinical entities of childhood with focal neurologic symptoms, previously
termed migraine variants, such as hemiplegic and basilar type, now are included within
this category of migraine with aura.
Approximately 15% to 30% of children and adolescents who have migraine report
visual disturbances, distortions, or obscurations before, or as, the headache begins.
The visual symptoms begin gradually and last for several minutes (typical aura). The
most frequent forms are binocular visual impairment with scotoma (77%), distortion
or hallucinations (16%), and monocular visual impairment or scotoma (7%).15Formed
illusions (eg, spots, balloons, colors, rainbows) or other bizarre visual distortions (eg,
Alice in Wonderland syndrome) may be described, albeit infrequently.
Sudden images and complicated visual perceptions should prompt consideration of
benign occipital epilepsy, specifically Panayiotopoulos syndrome.16Transient visual
obscurations may also be described with idiopathic intracranial hypertension; thus,
not all visual symptoms with headache are attributable to migraine with aura.
Basilar-type migraine (BM) represents 3% to 19% of childhood migraine and has
a mean age onset of 7 years. Attacks are characterized by episodes of dizziness,
vertigo, visual disturbances, ataxia, or diplopia as the aura, followed by the headache
phase. The pain of BM may be occipital in location, unlike the usual frontal or bitem-
poral pain of typical migraine. The diagnostic criteria require two or more symptoms
and emphasize bulbar and bilateral sensorimotor features (Box 3). Familiar forms of
BM linked to the same genes as familial hemiplegic migraine (FHM), types 1 and 2,
have recently been reported.17
FAMILIAL HEMIPLEGIC MIGRAINE
No form of migraine has yielded more information about the underlying molecular
genetics of migraine than FHM. FHM, type 1, is an uncommon autosomal dominant
form of migraine with aura caused by a missense mutation in the calcium channel
gene (CACNA1A) linked to chromosome 19p13. Clinically, FHM is a migraine head-
ache heralded by an aura that has ‘‘stroke-like’’ qualities, producing some degree
of hemiparesis (Box 4). The transient episodes of focal neurologic deficits precede
the headache phase by 30 to 60 minutes but, occasionally, extend well beyond the
headache itself (hours to days). The location of headache is often (but not invariably)
contralateral to the focal deficits. Many children and adolescents report transient
somatosensory symptoms heralding an attack with focal paresthesias around the
mouth and hand (eg, chiro-oral) without weakness; this does not fulfill the criteria for
hemiplegic migraine. Genetic testing is commercially available for FHM type 1.
Diagnostic criteria forbasilar-typemigraine
A. Fulfills criteria for migraine with aura
B. Accompanied by two or more of the following types of symptoms:
6. Visual phenomena in the temporal and nasal fields of both eyes
8. Decreased level of consciousness
9. Decreased hearing
10. Double vision
11. Simultaneous bilateral paresthesias
C. At least one of the following:
1. At least one aura symptom develops gradually over 5 minutes or more, and different
aura symptoms occur in succession over 5 minutes or more.
2. Each aura symptoms lasts more than 5 minutes and 60 minutes or less.
D. Headache-fulfilling criteria: migraine without aura begins during the aura or follows aura
within 60 minutes.
Diagnostic criteria for familial hemiplegic migraine
A. Fulfills criteria for migraine with aura
B. Aura consisting of fully reversible motor weakness and at least one of the following:
1. Fully reversible visual symptoms, including positive features (eg, flickering lights, spots,
lines) or negative features (eg, loss of vision)
2. Fully reversible sensory symptoms, including positive features (eg, pins and needles)
3. Fully reversible dysphasic speech disturbance
C. At least two of the following:
1. At least one aura symptom develops gradually over more than 5 minutes
2. Aura symptom lasts more than 5 minutes and less than 24 hours
3. Headache that fulfills criteria for migraine without aura begins during the aura or
follows the onset of aura within 60 minutes
D. At least one first-degree or second-degree relative has had an attack
E. At least one of the following:
1. History and physical and neurologic examinations not suggesting any organic disorder
2. History or physical or neurologic examination suggesting such a disorder, which is ruled
out by appropriate investigations
FHM types 2 and 3 are clinically quite similar but have distinctly different molecular
mechanisms: FHM type 2 attributable to point mutation of the a2-subunit of the
sodium-potassium pump (ATP1A2) gene on chromosome 1q21 to 23 and FHM type
3 attributable to sodium channel gene mutation (SCN1A).18,19
Sporadic hemiplegic migraine includes those patients who present with the abrupt
onset of focal neurologic signs or repetitive episodes of focal neurologic symptoms
without a family history.
PERIODIC SYNDROMES OF CHILDHOOD THAT REPRESENT PRECURSORS OF MIGRAINE
The term migraine variants was formerly applied to this grouping of migraine precur-
sors and some of the forms of migraine with aura; however, today, they are more
appropriately categorized according to IHS criteria. Three childhood conditions are
included in the category of periodic syndromes: benign paroxysmal vertigo, cyclic
(or cyclical) vomiting syndrome (CVS), and abdominal migraine. A fourth, benign
paroxysmal torticollis, is discussed in this section, because recent molecular genetic
information has demonstrated linkage to migraine.
Benign paroxysmal vertigo occurs in young children with abrupt episodes of
unsteadiness or ataxia. The child may appear startled or frightened by the sudden
loss of balance. Witnesses may report nystagmus or pallor. Verbal children may
describe dizziness and nausea. The spells may occur in clusters that typically resolve
with sleep. In series of patients available for long-term follow-up, many evolve to BM.
The diagnosis of benign paroxysmal vertigo is based on a characteristic clinical
history, but caution must be exercised to exclude seizure disorders (eg, benign occip-
ital epilepsy), otologic pathologic conditions, posterior fossa lesions, cervical spine
abnormalities, or metabolic disorders.
A pattern of cycling episodes of vomiting may be seen with a variety of gastrointes-
tinal, neurologic, and metabolic disorders, but a significant subset of children with
stereotyped episodes of vomiting have a migrainous basis for their symptoms, which
represent CVS. The key clinical feature of CVS is recurrent episodes of severe vomit-
ing with interval wellness (Box 5).
The episodes occur on a regular, often predictable, basis every 2 to 4 weeks, lasting
1 to 2 days, and commencing in the early morning hours. The age of onset is approx-
imately 5 years, and boys and girls are affected equally. The age of diagnosis is
approximately 8 years, and most children ‘‘outgrow’’ their symptoms by the age of
10 years; however, a significant proportion of patients have symptoms through
adolescence and even as young adults.
After a complete diagnostic investigation has excluded other causes of the cyclic
vomiting pattern, a comprehensive treatment plan, including acute and prophylactic
measures, may be instituted. For acute treatment of attacks, aggressive hydration,
sedation, and an antiemetic agent represent the mainstays. Oral or intravenous hydra-
tion with a glucose-containing solution is essential. Antiemetic choices include the
Ondansetron (0.3–0.4 mg/kg administered intravenously or 4–8 mg administered
as an oral disintegrating form or tablet)
Promethazine (0.25–0.5 mg/kg per dose administered intravenously or orally)
Prochlorperazine (2.5–5 mg twice a day administered intravenously)
During an attack, sedation with a benzodiazepine (lorazepam, 0.05–0.1 mg/kg up to
5 mg) or diphenhydramine (0.25–1 mg/kg) is often necessary. Cautious enthusiasm for
use of nasal (5 mg) or subcutaneous (w0.07 mg/kg) sumatriptan preparations is
growing as field experience mounts, although none of the triptan preparations have
been subjected to blind clinical trials for CVS and none are yet approved by the US
Food and Drug Administration (FDA).
Initiation of a migraine prophylactic agent for CVS should be strongly considered
because CVS is an extraordinarily disabling condition for the child and the family.
Options include the following:
Cyproheptadine (2–4 mg/d)
Amitriptyline (5–25 mg/d)
Valproate (w10–14 mg/kg/d)
Topiramate (1–10 mg/kg/d)
Beta-blockers (eg, propranolol)
Calcium channel blockers (eg, verapamil).
Abdominal migraine is characterized by episodic vague, midline, or periumbilical
abdominal pain (Box 6). Abdominal migraine includes a subset of patients with chronic
recurrent abdominal pain who have features that overlap with those of migraine without
aura. Abdominal migraine generally occurs in school-aged children, who report recurrent
As with CVS, the key to this entity is to recognize the recurrent pattern of symptoms
and to exclude other gastrointestinal or renal diseases by appropriate investigations.
An up-to-date reference list for CVS and abdominal migraine is available on-line (20).
Benign paroxysmal torticollis is a rare paroxysmal dyskinesia characterized by
to days. Other tortional or dystonic features, including truncal or pelvic posturing, may
be seen. Attacks first manifest during infancy between 2 and 8 months of age.
Paroxysmal torticollis is likely an early-onset variant of basilar migraine, but the
differential diagnosis must include gastroesophogeal reflux (Sandifer syndrome), idio-
pathic torsional dystonia, and complex partial seizure. Particular attention must be
paid to the posterior fossa and craniocervical junction, however, where congenital
or acquired lesions may produce torticollis. Once the diagnosis is established and
the benign nature is confirmed, there may be no requirement for treatment beyond
Diagnostic criteria forcyclic vomiting syndrome
Recurrent episodic attacks, usually stereotypical in the individual patient, of vomiting
and intense nausea. Attacks are associated with pallor and lethargy. There is complete
resolution of symptoms between attacks.
A. At least five attacks fulfilling criteria B and C
B. Episodic attacks, stereotypical in the individual patient, of intense nausea and vomiting
lasting 1 to 5 days
C. Vomiting during attacks occurs at least five times per hour for at least 1 hour
D. Symptom-free between attacks
E. Not attributed to another disorder and history and physical examination do not show signs
of gastrointestinal disease
OTHER UNUSUAL FORMS OF MIGRAINE IN CHILDHOOD
Alice in Wonderland syndrome represents the spectrum of migraine with aura, but the
visual aura is quite atypical and may include bizarre visual illusions and spatial distor-
tions preceding an otherwise nondescript headache. Affected patients describe
distorted visual perceptions, such as micropsia, macropsia, metamorphopsia, teleop-
sia, and macro- or microsomatognopsia. The visual symptoms likely represent CSD
and oligemia involving the parieto-occipital region heralding the headache.
Confusional migraine has perceptual distortions as a cardinal feature. Affected
patients, usually boys, abruptly become agitated, restless, disoriented, and occa-
sionally combative. The confusion phase may last minutes to hours. Later, once
consciousness returns to baseline, the patients describe an inability to communicate,
frustration, confusion, and loss of orientation to time, and they may not recall a head-
ache phase at all. Confusional migraine often occurs after seemingly innocuous head
injury occurring in sports (eg, soccer, football, skating). Clearly, any sudden unex-
plained alteration of consciousness after head injury warrants investigation for intra-
cranial hemorrhage, drug intoxication, metabolic derangements, or epilepsy.
Clinically, confusional migraine most likely represents an overlap between hemi-
plegic migraine and BM. Patients who present with unilateral weakness or language
disorders should be classified as having hemiplegic migraine, and patients with vertig-
inous or ataxic patterns should be classified as having BM.
Ophthalmoplegic migraine (OM) has been removed from the migraine spectrum into
the group of ‘‘cranial neuralgias’’ as a result of elegant neuroimaging evidence demon-
Diagnostic criteria forabdominalmigraine description
An idiopathic recurrent disorder seen mainly in children and characterized by episodic midline
abdominal pain manifesting in attacks lasting 1 to 72 hours with normality between episodes.
The pain is of moderate to severe intensity and is associated with vasomotor symptoms, nausea,
A. At least five attacks fulfilling criteria B through D
B. Attacks of abdominal pain lasting 1 to 72 hours
C. Abdominal pain has all the following characteristics:
1. Midline location, periumbilical or poorly localized
2. Dull or ‘‘just sore’’ quality
3. Moderate or severe intensity
D. During abdominal pain, at least two of the following:
E. Not attributed to another disorder; history and physical examination do not show signs
of gastrointestinal or renal disease, or such disease has been ruled out by appropriate
is painful ophthalmoparesis. The pain may be a nondescript ocular or retro-ocular
discomfort. Ptosis, limited adduction, and vertical displacement (eg, cranial nerve III)
are the most common objective findings. The oculomotor symptoms and signs may
appear well into the headache phase rather than heralding the headache, contrary
to the sequence of typical migraine. The signs may persist for days or even weeks after
the headache has resolved. Because OM is no longer viewed as migraine, eventually,
the term ophthalmoplegic migraine is likely to evolve to ophthalmoplegic neuralgia or
pediatrics and represent a challenging group of disorders characterized by the abrupt
nystagmus, ophthalmoparesis) followed by headache. Frequently, these ominous
traumatic, or metabolic disorders, and the migraine diagnosis become apparent only
after thorough neurodiagnostic testing. Some of these entities occur in infants and
young children, in whom a history is limited. Only after obtaining a careful history and
performing a physical examination and appropriate neurodiagnostic studies can these
diagnoses be comfortably entertained. All represent diagnoses of exclusion.
Once the diagnosis of migraine is established, a balanced, flexible, and individually
tailored treatment plan can be put in place. It is important to educate the patient
and the family about the diagnosis of migraine and to provide reassurance about
the absence of other life-threatening disorders. This essential explanation and reas-
surance can get the family ‘‘on board’’ with the treatment regimen; otherwise, all
subsequent efforts are likely to be fruitless.
When developing the treatment plan, the first step is to appreciate the degree of
disability imposed by the patient’s headache. Understanding the impact of the head-
ache on the quality of life can guide the decisions regarding the most appropriate ther-
The fundamental goals of long-term migraine treatment have been established:23
1. Reduction of headache frequency, severity, duration, and disability
2. Reduction of reliance on poorly tolerated, ineffective, or unwanted acute
3. Improvement in the quality of life
4. Avoidance of acute headache medication escalation
5. Education and enablement of patients to manage their disease to enhance
personal control of their migraine
6. Reduction of headache-related distress and psychologic symptoms
To achieve these goals, the treatment regimen must balance biobehavioral strate-
gies and pharmacologic measures. Biobehavioral treatments include biofeedback,
stress management, sleep hygiene, exercise, and dietary modifications (Box 7). The
value of these interventions cannot be overstated. Virtually all migraine sufferers can
benefit from review of these measures; however, certainly, in patients who have
more frequent attacks, even daily migraine, and a greater degree of disability, there
is a greater need to reinforce the following measures. Biofeedback and stress
management, which are underused therapies, have been subjected to controlled trials
and have been reviewed recently.24
The basic recommendations given to migraine sufferers include regular sleep and
controversial.25Somewhere between 7% and 44% of patients report that a particular
gers are cheese, chocolates, and citrus fruits. Wholesale dietary elimination of a list of
for a battleground at home when parents attempt to enforce a restrictive diet on an
unwilling resistant adolescent. The ensuing family friction may ultimately heightened
tensions at home, worsening the headache pattern. A more reasonable approach is to
Biobehavioral therapies forpediatricmigraine
Identification of migraine triggers
Thermal hand warming
Galvanic skin resistance feedback
Progressive muscle relaxation
Cognitive therapy/stress management
Feverfew (Tanacetum parthenium)
review the list of foods thought to be linked to migraine and encourage the patient to
keep a headache diary to see if a temporal relation exists between ingestion of one or
more of those foods andthe development of headache. If a link is discovered, common
sense dictates avoidance of the offending food substance.
Within Box 7 are included some of the complementary and alternative treatment
measures for pediatric and adult migraine. Few have been subjected to controlled
trials in children, but they have become commonly used and recommended on patient
education Web sites. Magnesium (w400–800 mg/d) and riboflavin (w400 mg/d) have
demonstrated efficacy in controlled prophylaxis trials and are currently recommended
for the prevention of migraine in adults.28Data regarding other herbal remedies are
limited in children. Butterbur root, for example, was compared with placebo and music
therapy, and only music therapy showed superiority compared with placebo during
the trial period; however, during extended follow-up, music therapy and butterbur
root showed value.29
An intriguing study was conducted by Hershey and colleagues30to explore the
value of coenzyme Q10 (CoQ10) in the management of migraine. These researchers
measured the levels of CoQ10 in 1550 children and found that 33% had values less
than the reference range. These patients were supplemented with CoQ10 at a rate
of 1 to 3 mg/kg/d, and in follow-up, their headache frequency improved from
19 (?10) to 12 (?11) per month (P<.001). These investigators proposed that CoQ10
deficiency may be a common phenomenon in children with frequent migraine.30
This clearly warrants further study.
Overuse of ‘‘over-the-counter’’ analgesics (more than five times per week) can be
a contributing factor to frequent, even daily, headache patterns. When recognized,
patients who are overusing analgesics must be educated to discontinue the practice.
Retrospective studies have suggested that this recommendation alone can decrease
The pharmacologic management of pediatric migraine has been subjected to
thorough review, but controlled data are, unfortunately, limited; therefore, recommen-
dations are all ‘‘off-label.’’33–37
Acute treatments represent the mainstay of migraine management. The patient
should be offered several acute treatment options to explore after the initial office visit
so that he or she may determine what works most effectively. Regardless of the acute
treatment selected, there are several basic guidelines regarding the use of acute treat-
ments that must be included as part of the patient’s educational process. The essen-
tial message is to give enough and to give it early.
1. Take the medicine as soon as possible when the headache begins (within 20–30
2. Take the appropriate dose; do not ‘‘baby’’ the headache.
3. Have the medicine available at the location where the patient usually has his or her
headaches (eg, school), and complete the school medicine forms.
4 Avoid analgesic overuse (more than three doses of analgesic per week).
For the acute treatment of migraine, the most rigorously studied agents are
ibuprofen, acetaminophen, and selected ‘‘triptans’’ (eg, rizatriptan and almotriptan
tablets, sumatriptan and zolmitriptan nasal sprays), which have shown safety and effi-
cacy in controlled trials (Table 2). Although the triptans have revolutionalized acute
migraine treatment for adults, none have been approved by the FDA for use in children
and adolescents, even though multiple studies have demonstrated the safety of their
use in children.38,39
Evidence summary for treatment ofacute attacks of migraine in childrenand adolescents
NSAIDs and nonopiate analgesics
Triptans (serotonin1B/1Dreceptor agonists)
2-hour HA response
1-hour HA response
NaratriptanI DBPC300 12–174-hour HA relief 64%–72%65%O Occasional
2-hour pain relief
2-hour HA relief
Sumatriptan IDBPC30212–172-hour pain reliefNANA0Occasional
Sumatriptan II DBPCCO238–162 hour >50% decrease 34%21%0Occasional
2-hour pain relief
2-hour HA response
EletriptanIIDBPC26712–172-hour HA response57%57%0Occasional
2-hour pain relief
Abbreviations: DBPC, double blind placebo-controlled; DBPCCO, double blind placebo-controlled crossover; HA, headache; IV, intravenous; NSAID, nonsteroidal
anti-inflammatory drug; OL, open-label; SB, single blind.
aClinical impression of effect: O, ineffective: most patients get no improvement; 1, somewhat effective: few patients get clinically significant improvement;
11, effective, some patients get clinically significant improvement; 111, very effective: most patients get clinically significant improvement.
Data from Refs.63–74
Only sumatriptan (5 and 20 mg) and zolmitriptan (5 mg) in the nasal spray form and
rizatriptan (5 and 10 mg) and almotriptan (6.25, 12.5, and 25 mg) in the tablet form have
demonstrated safety and efficacy in controlled trials in adolescents 12 to 17 years of
age.40–45For young children less than 12 years of age, ibuprofen (7.5–10 mg/kg) and
acetaminophen (15 mg/kg) have demonstrated efficacy and safety for the acute
treatment of migraine.46,47Combination agents, such as sumatriptan, 85 mg, plus
naproxen, 550 mg, have demonstrated efficacy in adults, but their utility in adoles-
cents has not yet been demonstrated.48
A diverse group of medications is used to prevent attacks of migraine, and it is
useful to become comfortable with a few of these agents. Their use should, however,
be limited to those patients whose headaches occur with sufficient frequency or
severity as to warrant a daily treatment program. Most clinical studies require
aminimum of three headaches per monthto justify a daily agent. A clear sense offunc-
tional disability must be established before committing to a course of daily medication.
It is also useful to identify the presence of ‘‘comorbid conditions’’ (eg, depression,
obesity), which may suggest the relative benefit of one agent over another.
Once preventive treatment is initiated, patience must be encouraged to permit
enough time for the beneficial effects to be appreciated. Generally, an 8- to
12-week course is necessary before success or failure can be determined. This point
must be emphasized at the time the prescriptions are provided, because many impa-
tient families expect immediate effects after the first days of treatment. The author
sees many patients in his practice who have ‘‘failed’’ multiple prophylactic courses,
only to find that the therapeutic trials lasted for only a few days each.
The duration of treatment is controversial. In recognition of the cyclic nature of
migraine, the daily agents should be used for a finite period. The general recommen-
dation is to provide treatment through the calendar school year and then to eliminate
daily agents gradually during summer vacation. Another option in younger children is
to use a shorter course (eg, 6–8 weeks), followed by slow weaning off the medicine.
For preventive or prophylactic treatment in the population of children and adoles-
cents who have frequent disabling migraine, flunarizine, unavailable in the United
States, has established and reproducible efficacy data, but encouraging data are
emerging regarding several antiepileptic agents, such as topiramate, disodium val-
proate, and levetiracetam, in addition to the antihistamine cyproheptadine and the
antidepressant amitriptyline (Table 3).49–51
For children younger than the age of 10 years who do not have problems related to
being overweight, cyproheptadine at a starting dose of 2 to 4 mg as a single bedtime
dose is a simple and safe strategy. The dose may gradually be elevated to two or even
three times a day; however, in the author’s experience, most children become too
sedated at doses much higher than 4 to 8 mg/d.
Amitriptyline has never been assessed in controlled fashion but remains one of the
most widely used agents. Starting doses of 5 to 10 mg at bedtime may gradually be
increased toward 1 mg/kg/d. Controversy exists as to whether or not a pretreatment
electrocardiogram (ECG) is warranted, but the author generally does not order an ECG
for children on low doses (10–25 mg).
Topiramate is gaining wide acceptance, and mounting evidence, based on well-de-
respectively, versus 16%with placebo.52A second trial evenly randomized 44children
monthly migraine attacks from 16 per month to 4 per month in the treatment group
versus 13 per month to 8 per month in the placebo group (P 5 .025).53In that study,
Summaryof evidence for the preventive therapies formigraine in childrenand adolescents
Class Study Designn
End Point Efficacy
IV OL 427–16HA/month81%—
186–17HA freq/month83% > 50%
ZonisamideIVOL12Mean 13HA/month 75%—
TrazodoneII DBPC357–18HA freq 45%40%OOccasional to
PizotifenII DBPCCO477–14HA/month15%16%OOccasional to
Calcium channel blockers
Nimodipine II DBPCCO37 7–18HA/month 15%16%O Occasional
Timolol IIDBPCCO19 6–13 HA/month38% 40%O Occasional
Naproxen sodium III DBPC10 6–17 HA freq 60%40%
Abbreviations: DBPC, double blind placebo-controlled; DBPCCO, double blind placebo-controlled crossover; freq, frequency; HA, headache; IV intravenous;
NSAID, nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drug; OL, open-label; NS, not significant.
aClinical impression of effect: O, ineffective: most patients get no improvement; 1, somewhat effective: few patients get clinically significant improvement;
11, effective: some patients get clinically significant improvement; 111, very effective: most patients get clinically significant improvement.
Data from Refs.75–92
there was a significant reduction in overall disability and school absenteeism. A third
recent report comparing 50 mg/d versus 100 mg/d versus matched placebo found
a statistically significant improvement from the prospective baseline period in migraine
frequency with the 100-mg dose (75% decrease in monthly migraines) but not with the
50-mg dose (46% decrease in monthly migraines) or in the placebo group (45%)
(P 5 .016). The most benefit was appreciated in 100-mg group (50 mg administered
a greater than 50% reduction in headache burden after approximately 8 weeks of
Typically, for teenagers, a 15- to 25-mg dose of topiramate is initiated as a single
bedtime dose and then gradually titrated toward 50 mg twice a day incrementally
on a weekly or every-other-week basis. Clinical experience has demonstrated that
many patients respond to doses as low as 25 mg given at bedtime; thus, it is valuable
to ‘‘titrate to effect.’’ Cognitive effects must be monitored quite carefully, and more
evidence is needed to assess the educational impact of topiramate for prevention
of adolescent migraine. It is counterproductive to reduce the headache burden at
the expense of academic performance.
Divalproex sodium has strong efficacy data in adults and is approved for use as
a migraine preventative agent, but no controlled trials exist in children or adults.
Open-label trials have had success. In one study of 42 children (aged 7–16 years,
mean age 5 11.3 years), a 50% headache reduction was seen in 78.5%, a 75% head-
ache reduction was seen in 14.2%, and 9.5% of patients became headache-free.
These open-label results indicated that divalproex sodium was an effective and
well-tolerated treatment for the prophylaxis of migraine in children.55
Likewise, levetiracetam has open-label data from 19 patients (mean age 5 11.9
years) whose mean migraine frequency fell from 6.3 migraines per month to 1.7 per
month at doses of 125 to 250 mg given twice a day. Ten patients (52.6%) had
complete resolution of headache. The investigators concluded that levetiracetam
seemed to be a promising candidate for well-controlled clinical trials of pediatric
patients who have migraine.56A second open-label trial of 20 patients found that 18
of 20 patients had a 50% or greater reduction in monthly migraine frequency and
had lowered disability scale scores at doses of approximately 20 mg/kg/d.57
In one small open-label study in children (10–17 years of age) with mixed refractory
headache conditions (50% migraine), the children were treated with zonisamide at an
average dose of 6 mg/kg/d.58Two thirds of the children had a greater than 50% reduc-
tion in headache frequency from baseline.
The long-term prognosis of adolescents who have migraine has not been well studied.
Five- to 7-year follow-up studies revealed that 20% to 25% of adolescents originally
diagnosed with migraine have remission of symptoms, 50% to 60% have persistence
of their migraine with aura, and 25% convert to tension-type headache (TTH). Twenty
percent who originally had TTH converted to migraine.59,60Monastero and
colleagues61evaluated 55 adolescents with migraine who were available for 10 years
of follow-up and found that 42% had persistent migraine, 38% had experienced
remission, and 20% had transformed to TTH. Interestingly, only migraine without
aura persisted through the 10-year follow-up period, whereas other migrainous disor-
ders and nonclassifiable headaches did not. The longest follow-up available came
from Brna and colleagues,62with 20-year information on 60 members of an original
cohort of 95 from 1983. Of the 60, 27% were headache-free, 33% had TTH, 17%
had migraine, and 23% had TTH and migraine. Of those with persistent headache,
80% described their headaches as moderate to severe, although an overall improve-
ment was described in 66%. TTH was more likely to remit. Headache severity at diag-
nosis was the most predictive of headache outcome at 20 years. These data indicate
that female gender, migraine severity at diagnosis, and longer duration from time of
onset of headache until time of initial medical examination tended toward an unfavor-
able prognosis. Given our current understanding of the long-term neuropathologic and
psychosocial consequences of persistent frequent migraine, further longitudinal
epidemiologic study of the evolution of adolescent migraine is imperative.
Migraine is a common disorder in children and adolescents. There is a wide spectrum
of clinical forms, but the most frequent form is migraine without aura, which is charac-
terized by attacks of frontal or bitemporal pounding and nauseating headache lasting
1 to 72 hours. A fascinating and challenging subset known as migraine with aura and
the periodic syndromes can be associated with frightening focal neurologic distur-
bances and may require careful consideration for the possibility of neoplastic,
vascular, metabolic, or toxic disorders.
Migraine treatment philosophy now embraces a balanced approach with biobeha-
vioral interventions and pharmacologic measures. Treatment decisions must be
based on the disability produced by the headaches, the headache burden. A growing
body of controlled pediatric data is beginning to emerge regarding the acute and
preventative agents, lessening our dependence on extrapolated adult data.
In the near future, we anticipate further advances in understanding the molecular
genetics of migraine, advances that should translate to improved care of the pediatric
patient who has migraine headache. Furthermore, therapeutic energy expended for
our pediatric patients should translate to decreased disability as our patients progress
into adulthood, lessening the lifespan burden of migraine.
American Academyof Neurologyevidence classificationschemefora therapeutic article andlinkage
tolevelof recommendation (2003version)
Rating of therapeutic article
Class I: prospective, randomized controlled, clinical trial with masked outcome assessment, in
a representative population
Class II: prospective matched group cohort study in a representative population with masked
outcome assessment that meets a through d or a randomized clinical trial in a representative
population that lacks one criterion
Class III: all other controlled trials in a representative population, in which outcome is
independently assessed or independently derived by objective outcome measurement
Class IV: evidence from uncontrolled studies, case series, case reports, or expert opinion
In exceptional cases, one convincing class I study may suffice for an ‘‘A’’ recommendation if (1)
all criteria are met, (2) there is a magnitude of effect of 5 or greater, and (3) there are narrow
confidence intervals (lower limit >2).
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