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Headache: Signs and Symptoms

What are the signs and symptoms of headaches?

The signs and symptoms of headaches vary from child to child and can depend on the type of headache. The two most common types of childhood headaches are migraine and tension-type headaches.

Migraine headaches

Migraine headaches are recurrent headaches that occur at intervals of days, weeks or months. Migraines in children generally have some of the following symptoms and characteristics:

  • Migraines last hours to days.
  • Migraines are often in the frontal areas as well as the temples, and can be on one side of the head or both.
  • Children complain of a throbbing, pounding or pulsating pain.
  • Common symptoms associated with migraine headaches are nausea, vomiting, stomach pain, difficulties with bright lights or loud sounds or sensitivity to smells.
  • Warnings, called auras, may start before the migraine headache. These auras can include blurry vision, flashing lights, colored spots, strange taste, or weird sensations. An aura usually occurs 5 to 60 minutes before the onset of the headache.

Tension-type headaches

Tension-type headaches are recurrent headaches that generally have some of the following symptoms and characteristics:

  • They can last from minutes to several days.
  • They feel like a band tightening around the head.
  • Muscle tightness is noticed.
  • Children may have sensitivity to bright light or loud sounds.


Chronic headaches

Headaches can become chronic when they occur more days of the month than not.

Chronic headaches can result from taking some types of medication—for example, acetaminophen (Tylenol), ibuprofen (Motrin), using caffeine or some prescription medications—more than 2 to 3 days per week. These are called medication overuse headaches.