Stupid question: Do children still fake illnesses in an effort to get attention or, more likely, to get out of having to do something they dislike. Of course they must. The practice (or art, should I say?) is as timeless as whining, or trying to stick beans up your nose. I had a friend (a tragically dishonest and unscrupulous friend) who had basically faked an illness throughout 8th grade to the extent that he was able to get a home tutor 3 hours a day in lieu of having to go to school (where is he now?). And I had my regrettable moments of faking stomach aches and the like in order to buy myself a bit more time before I had to turn in that term paper or book report. So it is no wonder many parents cast a skeptical eye on children who cry sick far too often. But the fact of the matter is, many of these children who claim to be overtaken by pain are really suffering – suffering from migraine headaches to be exact.
Now that school has started up again, the instances of migraines will undoubtedly multiply. This is not a coincidence, nor is it a ruse. Migraines, the curse of contemporary life for many adults, are also becoming a common affliction of children and teens. An estimated ten percent of children experience migraines, according to WebMD, and an even higher percentage of teens (some say up to 28 percent) suffer from the smarting that is a migraine headache (boys tend to get hit at a younger age and more frequently than girls). One of the chief causes of migraine onset is lack of, or disruption of, sleep, which is known to happen during the school year. Other causes include skipping meals, dehydration, and even changes in the weather (goodbye summer, hello fall). So, that child who is doubled over and clutching his head as if it were ready to snap off, may not be faking it.
According to a New York Times article published this week, a migraine is an inherited neurological condition characterized by severe, often disabling headache pain. During a migraine attack, a number of changes occur throughout the brain causing dilation of blood vessels; severe pain; increased sensitivity to lights, sounds and smells; nausea and vomiting; and other symptoms. A child migraineur, as they are called, differs from an adult migraineur in the sense that the pain is not usually limited to a specific location with children (as it is with adults) and instead is more often felt across the front of the forehead or on both temples rather than on just one side. Another difference, is that while adult migraines can last four hours or more, in a child, the migraine can last anywhere from an hour (if you are lucky) to up to three days (time to hide all sharp objects in the house).
Needless to say, many parents have a heck of a time determining what is real pain and what is imaginary pain, and the fact that migraines have customarily been thought of as exclusively an adult condition doesn’t help matters. As if these poor children needed another disadvantage, the treatment for child migraineurs is a bit limited. Some of the newest and most effective migraine treatments and preventative drugs have yet to win FDA approval for pediatric use, according to the New York Times report. For instance, a class of migraine drugs called triptans, which narrow blood vessels in the brain, have been a godsend for migraine sufferers, but has yet to be deemed safe for children.
As if childhood, namely being a teenager, weren’t bad enough, imagine having to deal with these horribly debilitating attacks that can literally bring you to your knees. But there are things one could do (whether you are the migraineur, or the concerned parent) to keep migraines at bay. Sleep, as mentioned before, is something worth investing in, and has been known to help a migraine go away. Sometimes a change in diet will provoke a migraine (certain foods such as citrus, and foods containing nitrates or nitrites may bring on an episode). And there exist a number of environmental, psychological and emotional triggers as well (bright lights, stress, sadness, etc). And while I am sure there are more holistic/natural routes to take in dealing with migraine headaches, I remain unaware. If you have suggestions, personal accounts, or cautionary tales, by all means please share with your fellow reader.