Case Take – "Child with persistent Migraines"
By Jane Cronin - Clinicians Naturopath
I thought it might be interesting for a change to look at a clinical case I recently encountered as a way of sharing information. I thought this was interesting as it is more unusual to see children with severe headaches than adults.
The patient was a 9 year old boy who was experiencing headaches and migraines several times a week. This had been going on ever since he was a small child. The family had not been able to establish a pattern of when they occurred other than their frequency several times a week; although they sometimes came on an hour or so after coming home from school. Things that the mum thought might trigger attacks were getting too hot and stress and anxiety.
I asked about behaviour, in particular whether he got hyperactive. His mum said he could get a bit like that early evening and possible a bit aggressive. Of course being a naturopath I had to ask all about bowel movements and it seems he only had a movement every other day. Everyone should be going every day. I also asked about sleep and he seemed to have a problem with waking at night.
His diet seemed fairly standard with Weetabix or other cereal for breakfast or toast and lunch being sandwiches. Dinner was often meat and vegetables.
So looking at solutions
There were two areas that I thought were worth some consideration.
- One was looking at the area of food intolerances, which I would consider for anyone having headaches since they were children. There are many foods associated as triggers for migraines and headaches such as chocolate, cheese (and other foods containing tyramine), caffeine, artificial colours, sweeteners, preservative like nitrates/sulphites and MSG. However I wondered in this case whether there may be a problem with wheat or gluten. The clues for me were to do with digestion as I often find clients who don’t get on well with gluten have trouble with constipation or generally don’t manage a daily bowel movement. If you are not eliminating toxins processed by the liver and removed through the bowel on a daily basis the circulating toxins can cause headaches. Also gluten intolerance can cause hyperactivity in children and can result in sleep issues. His diet was high in gluten containing foods (cakes, muesli bars, bread, cereals) and it seems that after school he came home very hungry he had an afternoon snack of either bread or wheat cereals. This is often when the aggressive hyperactive behaviour occurred and the headaches.
- The other area I looked at was low magnesium, since this can often lead to headaches due to muscular tension. On looking at his tongue it was wobbling a bit on the tip, which can indicate low magnesium. Also waking in the night can be a sign that stores are low and stress causes magnesium to be lost from the body. This is why some many of us are deficient in it.
In conclusion I suggested trying a gluten free diet for a couple of weeks to see if symptoms improved. Excluding a food completely for a couple of weeks can often give positive results. I also recommended he should take magnesium at night before bed to see if sleep improves as well as the headaches. Drinking water regularly is also very important.
I also suggested that a doctor should be consulted if a child suffers from frequent or disabling headaches or migraine symptoms.