Causes Of An Abdominal Migraine

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A Child Lying In Bed With An Abdominal Migraine

The Short Answer –

Abdominal migraines are a bit of a mystery. They typically affect children around 7 years old and tend to disappear naturally as your child gets older.

Who they affect appears to be down to a series of fairly complex causes, although a propensity for stress and worry in your child is thought to be a major indicator, as well as a genetic link.

They are important to understand, because abdominal migraines frequently lead to migraine headaches later in life. In this article, we discuss the potential causes of an abdominal migraine.

Causes Of Abdominal Migraines…

Severe abdominal pain occurs is approximately 11-15% of children and adolescents (Paediatric Health, Medicine and Therapeutics). One of the most common causes of this is abdominal migraines (along with functional constipation).

Abdominal migraines are specialist migraines that occur in the stomach of your child. They cause sudden, sharp pains that can last for anything from 30 minutes to several days.

They are typically characterised by stabbing pains in the centre of your child’s tummy, often around their belly button – but never around the sides.

The exact cause of abdominal migraines is largely unknown.

It is thought that stress or worry can affect the levels of histamine and serotonin in your child’s body.

This can effect the message pathway between your child’s brain and their gut (through their central nervous system).

As well as disrupting the normal regulation of gastrointestinal motility, an imbalance in serotonin is likely to cause changes in stomach sensitivity and their CNS central nervous system).

This in turn can cause abdominal migraines. However, it is worth pointing out, this is very much a theory without substantial scientific proof as of yet.

There are however a number of clear factors that will affect the likelihood of your child suffering from abdominal migraines. These include –


If you or members of your immediate family suffer with migraine headaches, then it is significantly more likely that your children may suffer with abdominal migraines. A study in the Journal of Pediatric Gastroenterology and Nutrition found that 90% of sufferers had relatives with migraine headaches.

Your Genes Are One Potential Causes Of An Abdominal Migraine


A number of studies have shown a higher percentage of girls to suffer with abdominal migraines. (Developmental Medicine & Child Neurology


If your child has a diet high in sugary drinks, then there is an increased likelihood that they will trigger abdominal migraines.

Sensitivity To Stress

If your child is particularly prone to getting stressed or anxious, then it is quite possible that this too will cause them to start suffering with abdominal migraines.

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What Happens Next?

If your child suffers with abdominal migraines, it is very likely these will just stop naturally as they get older. However, one of the reasons they are referred to as ‘migraines’ is that there is a very high chance that as their abdominal migraines stop, so migraine headaches will start.

Numerous studies have shown a strong link between abdominal migraines and the development of migraine headaches in adulthood. (Cephalalgia – International Headache Society).

While there is no guarantee that successful management of abdominal migraines will stop the development of migraine headaches in later life, it certainly wont do any harm.

As well as helping to control your child’s symptoms, good management can also help them to form a strong treatment plan should they start to suffer with migraine headaches later on.

Why Is Treatment So Important?

If abdominal migraines pass naturally as you get older, you may be asking “why is understanding them so important?”

A Child Standing Isolated At A Party Due To Her Abdominal Migraines

Well, quite apart from the obvious pain and discomfort to you child when they suffer one, abdominal migraines can leave a lasting scar on your child’s development.

The impact they can have includes –

  • Missed Education/ Schooling (due to having to take time off)
  • Social Isolation (from feeling ‘different’ to the other children in school)
  • Eating Disorders (if your child wrongly starts to associate crippling tummy pain with eating)
  • General Development Disruption (from the fear of having to deal with such painful episodes)

As well as being terrifying for a child to experience pain that would floor an adult (let alone a child), there are numerous ways in which their coping mechanisms may cause withdrawal.

While the life cycle of abdominal migraines may only last a few years, it is likely the psychological and overall impact may last for their entire lives. This is one of the reasons that effective treatment for abdominal migraines is so important.

The Final Word –

Abdominal migraines are an abhorrent source of tummy pain, almost always affecting children (although rare cases in adults have been found).

They are an early indicator or a long struggle with migraines of various types and, although the migraines themselves are likely to pass with time, the effects on your child may not.

Missed schooling, social isolation and a general disruption to your child’s development can all live with them long after their abdominal migraines are gone.

This is why treatment for the symptoms is absolutely key to minimizing the disruption and long-term damage they can cause.

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References Used –

1. Jyoti Mani and Shailender Madani. (April 2018). Pediatric abdominal migraine: current perspectives on a lesser known entity. Paediatric Health, Medicine and Therapeutics.

2. Donald Bentley, Anne Kehely, Munira Al-Bayaty and Colin A Michie. (Jan 1995). Abdominal Migraine as a Causeof Vomiting in Children: A Clinician’s View. Journal of Pediatric Gastroenterology and Nutrition

3. M. J. Mortimer J. Kay A. Jaron (March 1993). CLINICAL EPIDEMIOLOGY OF CHILDHOOD ABDOMINAL MIGRAINE IN AN URBAN GENERAL PRACTICE. Developmental Medicine & Child NeurologyVolume 35, Issue 3

4. David NK Symon, Judith M Hockaday. (Dec 1992). Is There a Place for “Abdominal Migraine” as a Separate Entity in the IHS Classification? Cephalalgia – International Headache Society.