KidsMD Health Topics

Headaches in Children

  • Overview

    I can't tell you how thrilled I am. It's like I have a new daughter, seeing her go from where she was last year to where she is now. Nothing has given me greater happiness.

    - Mom of an 11-year-old patient in the Boston Children's Headache Program

    Many children experience headaches at some point. Most have headaches only occasionally, but sometimes children have frequent headaches that disrupt their regular daily lives.

    Headaches have many different causes. They’re generally divided into two categories—primary headaches and secondary headaches. Secondary headaches are caused by another medical condition. The primary headaches that children and adolescents experience are most often migraine and tension type headaches.

    • Most headaches don’t represent a serious underlying medical condition.
    • The pain is generally the result of muscle tension, expanded blood vessels in the head and temporary changes in brain chemistry.
    • Many things can trigger headaches, including dehydration, skipping meals, changes in the weather, stress and irregular sleep schedules.
    • Sometimes, headaches are caused by other medical problems. Parents often worry that their child’s headaches may be caused by a brain tumor, but this is very rare.
    • If you are concerned about your child’s headaches, or if the headaches are interfering with your child’s life, talk to your child’s primary care provider. 

    How Boston Children’s Hospital approaches headaches

    If a child or teenager suffers from frequent or disabling headaches, the pain can have a big impact on her life and her whole family.

    Our specialists at Boston Children’s Hospital have great expertise in diagnosing and treating children’s headaches. We take a comprehensive approach to caring for our patients. Our team includes child neurologists, pain management specialists, psychologists and complementary care providers. We offer a wide variety of treatments and therapies including:

    • medications
    • cognitive-behavioral therapies including biofeedback
    • psychological counseling
    • physical therapy
    • complementary therapies including acupuncture

    We also work with your family to identify anything that may be triggering your child’s headaches—like stress, dehydration or certain foods. Understanding these triggers may help you and your child take steps to prevent or manage the headaches.

    Children with headache problems are evaluated in our Headache Program. If your child has chronic, hard-to-manage headaches, we may also refer her to our multi-disciplinary headache clinic.

    At every step, we take the time to understand your child’s condition, talk with you about our recommendations and answer your questions. We also coordinate care with your child’s primary care provider.

    Our headache specialists see patients not only in Boston but also in Waltham, Lexington, Peabody and Weymouth. The multi-disciplinary headache clinic is in Waltham. We schedule new and urgent patients as soon as possible in the most appropriate office.

    If you live outside the Boston area and it’s hard for you to come to Boston Children’s for follow-up visits, we’ll help you find health care professionals in your area who can provide ongoing care. Whether it’s here at Boston Children’s or somewhere else, we will help your child get the treatment she needs.

     

    Preventing concussions in high school sports

    As kids start training for fall contact team sports, preventing concussions is an increasingly important topic. Watch Boston Children’s Dr. William Meehan give a TV interview on how to prevent concussions.

    Headache diary

    Everyone’s headaches are different. Keeping a headache diary may help you learn more about your child’s situation and enable her doctor to help more effectively. You can download a headache diary at What you can do at home.

    Headaches: Reviewed by Anna Minster, MD, and Alyssa LeBel, MD
    © Boston Children’s Hospital, 2010

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