Adults are the largest group of migraine sufferers, but children get them too. In fact, migraine headaches in children are surprisingly common. Up to 15% of all kids experience one at some point in their life. Childhood migraines can last from hours to days and can make a child’s school and social life more difficult. Unfortunately, not all kids are diagnosed promptly since some parents assume a child is malingering when they say their head hurts.
Even fewer parents realize that migraine headaches in children may be linked to a congenital heart defect called patent foramen ovale. Normally during the development of a fetus, a temporary hole exists between the two upper chambers of the heart called the atria. After birth, a flap of tissue seals up the hole, but in some kids the hole isn’t completely closed off. There’s some thought that closing this “heart hole” surgically could improve or eliminate migraines in children.
To see how common a patent foramen ovale is in children with migraine headaches, researchers from the University of Utah did echocardiograms on 109 children with migraine headaches. They found that one out of four children with migraine headaches had a patent foramen ovale, but the incidence climbed to one in two in children who had migraine headaches with an aura.
Migraine auras are sensory changes that occur before the pain of a migraine headache comes on. They can include visual changes such as flashes of light, brief loss of vision or other sensory changes such as numbness or tingling. They can also include speech problems and muscle weakness, which can closely resemble the symptoms of a stroke.