Abdominal Migraine Triggers

Your Child's Pain, But Your Responsibility...

The Short Answer

Avoiding your child’s abdominal migraine triggers are a key method of reducing the frequency and severity of their abdominal migraines. Anything that exerts stress on your child’s body such as sleep disturbance, exhaustion or a range of unhealthy foods, could be triggering their abdominal migraines.

We analyse the most likely triggers below.

Recognising Abdominal Migraines And Their Triggers…

Abdominal migraines are frequently not diagnosed properly, in part because they are almost always present in children (who don’t often relay their symptoms clearly) and partly because they are frequently forgotten in favour of other gastrointestinal disorders.

The reality is that, while abdominal migraines may be under-diagnosed, they are actually one of the two most likely causes of abdominal pain in children.

Abdominal migraine triggers however vary greatly from child to child – indeed what is a trigger for one is still quite likely not to be a trigger for someone. This is where the importance of keeping a diary plotting your child’s feelings, diet and activities becomes priceless.

It is only from here that you can start working out patterns that will highlight which specific triggers affect your child. By then avoiding the proposed trigger, you can compare it to past periods and see what impact it has on the frequency and severity on the next abdominal migraines.

There are however a group of common abdominal migraine triggers that are frequently highlighted. I have included these in summary and more detail below.

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Abdominal Migraine Triggers

  • Stress
  • Excitement
  • Emotional Changes
  • Lack of Sleep
  • Exhaustion
  • Swallowing Large Amounts Of Air
  • Motion Sickness
  • Nitrates such as those found in processed meats like sandwich ham or turkey.
  • Preserved meats such as sausages or hot dogs
  • Foods containing MSG (monosodium glutamate) such as many Chinese dishes
  • Citrus fruits
  • Chocolates
  • Sugary Drinks
  • Caffeine
  • Alcohol
  • Long periods of stuffy air


This is one of the most common abdominal migraine triggers. Stress is thought to trigger changes in the levels of histamine and serotonin in your child’s body. This in turn ultimately causes a distuption to their central nervous system and an increased sensitivity in their stomach.

Stress In Known To Be A Major Of Abdominal Migraines In Children

Emotional Changes

Any dramatic changes in your child’s environment or emotional state can have a significant impact on their overall health. This is no different with abdominal migraines. Dramatic changes will alter the levels of different hormones in your child’s body and may easily trigger an abdominal migraine.

Lack of Sleep

As well as causing an increased sensitivity to pain, a lack of sleep can also trigger an abdominal migraine.


Similar to lack of a sleep, exhaustion caused by any number of factors, can reduce your child’s immune system and trigger an abdominal migraine. Reasons for exhaustion could include insomnia, but also may just be following a very hard day where they overexerted themselves playing.

Swallowing Large Amounts Of Air

This can cause bloating and cramps in your child, often leading to a full abdominal migraine.

Motion Sickness

Due to it’s impact on the brain stem (Granston et al. Progress In Neurobiology), motion sickness can trigger abdominal migraines. 

Nitrates (As Found In Many Processed Meats)

The theory is that processed foods are broken down into nitrates and ultimately nitric oxide. The link is mostly by coincidence – with sufferers having higher levels of nitric oxide, but with all triggers being very personal, it is possible that nitrates may trigger an abdominal migraine.

Preserved Meat (Eg Sausages or Hot Dogs).

This is very much a personal trigger, but has been observed in a number of cases as a potential trigger.

Foods containing MSG (monosodium glutamate) such as many Chinese dishes.

This link has been challenged and suffers from the fact that most clinical data actually contradicts it – finding MSG in isolation not to be the problem (Geha et al. The Journal of Nutrition)

However, some people still report it to be one of their abdominal migraine triggers, so I have included it.

Citrus Fruits

One of the 5 C’s often advocated to avoid by doctors if you suffer with any form of migraine (Archives Of Disease In Childhood). Also includes cheese, chocolate, coffee/ caffeine and coke.


Particularly soft cheeses contain tyramine. While small amounts is likely to be fine, they have been linked to abdominal migraines in the past.


High levels of sugar create cravings and these cravings have been linked to a much higher incidence of abdominal migraines.

Sugary Drinks

It’s not just coke – all sugery drinks contain both large quantities of fructose and preservatives, both of which have been linked to abdominal migraines.


Children should be avoiding caffeine anyway as it can cause serious sleep disturbance, tummy pains and a host of health problems in 3-10 year old children.

Long Periods of Stuffy Air

‘Stuffy air’ is air that has not been well ciculated with fresh air from outside. It typically contains much higher levels of carbon dioxide and air pollution.

While evidence of it’s effect is somewhat mixed, there is a strong theory that it might affect cognitive ability amongst other body functions.

This is turn is believed to trigger abdominal migraines in some children.

The Final Word –

As mentioned at the beginnings, which abdominal migraine triggers affect your child and which don’t will be a very personal experience.

Only be keeping a careful record and trying the removal of different triggers will show you which affect your child the most.

Avoiding their abdominal migraine triggers is a key part of treating them, although there are other strategies/ treatment that are also worth considering, which we cover in our article ‘Treatment For Abdominal Migraines’.

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References Used –

1. Anna Cuomo-Granston and Peter D Drummond. (April 2010). Migraine and motion sickness: What is the link? Progress In Neurobiology.

2. Raif S. Geha, Alexa Beiser, Clement Ren, Roy Patterson, Paul A. Greenberger, Leslie C. Grammer, Anne M. Ditto, Kathleen E. Harris, Martha A. Shaughnessy, Paul R. Yarnold, John Corren, Andrew Saxon. (April 2000). Review of Alleged Reaction to Monosodium Glutamate and Outcome of a Multicenter Double-Blind Placebo-Controlled Study. The Journal of Nutrition

3. N Speight. (June 2006). Best practice: migraine. Archives Of Disease In Childhood

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