Seven-year-old Camden Lewis walked into his kitchen, told his mother that his head hurt again, and threw up. Then he went to sleep. His mom, Stephanie, was alarmed, but she decided to see how Camden felt when he woke up. Though her son said that he was fine, Lewis called their pediatrician, who suggested she keep a diary of Camden's headaches. "That way we could see if there was a pattern or a trigger," says Lewis, who lives in Los Angeles. After about a month of weekly headaches, Camden was diagnosed with migraines by a neurologist, who recommended a plan to help control the pain and reduce the frequency.
This isn't an uncommon story. In 2009, researchers at Children's National Medical Center and George Washington University found that 17 percent of children age 4 and older had frequent or severe headaches. In fact, migraines are among the top five conditions that affect children, right up there with asthma, allergies, obesity, and depression. Even babies can get migraines, though it's difficult to determine this in nonverbal children (holding their head can be one sign). "The youngest person I've diagnosed was 10 months old," says Andrew D. Hershey, M.D., Ph.D., director of the Headache Center at Children's Hospital Medical Center, in Cincinnati.
The encouraging news about children's headaches is that your child's susceptibility may decrease as he grows. "Children's brains change as they get older, so it's possible that their pain will go away," says Alyssa A. Lebel, M.D., codirector of the Headache Clinic at Children's Hospital Boston. (Hormones also seem to have an effect. After puberty, boys often get better, though girls sometimes begin getting more headaches.) Also good to know: When a child gets a headache, it tends to go away more quickly than it does for an adult. But you can speed up the process even more -- and help reduce your child's risk of recurrent headaches -- if you're well versed in the condition.