Like Mother, Like Son: Family Shares Migraine Pain, Too

Robin Singer was in the fifth grade when she experienced her first migraine.

“I didn’t have any pain, but I did have temporary blindness,” said Singer, 46, who lives in New Jersey. “Eventually ... by seventh or eighth grade I was experiencing migraines with severe pain, with a visual aura.”

And because Singer knows what it’s like to have that throbbing, aching pain, she can certainly sympathize with her 14-year-old son, Daniel, who is also a migraine sufferer.

VIDEO: Kids & Migraines

SLIDESHOW: Headache Triggers

Singer’s migraines developed around the age she started menstruating, which doctors say is a common trigger. When she was pregnant with her first child, they became less severe in her second trimester. After she delivered her second child, she became migraine-free for almost 14 years because of a change in hormones.

But just this past year, Singer’s migraines came back, and she attributes this to the onset of menopause.

Of the nearly 30 million people in the U.S. who experience migraines, three out of four are women.

Although there is a genetic component to the migraines, Daniel’s most likely began around the time he was in pre-school, Singer said. She can remember the school calling her – many times – and telling her Daniel didn’t feel well enough to stay in school. But it wasn’t until he was 5 that he was officially diagnosed.

“We now know that about 20 percent or so of kids and adolescents actually suffer from headaches,” said Daniel’s doctor, Dr. Larry Newman of the Headache Institute at Roosevelt Hospital in New York City. “One of the problems is, when young people start getting migraines, their doctors and family don’t take them seriously. They are told that they are imitating their parents, or trying to avoid school, or get out of homework. And these poor kids are suffering needlessly.”

Unlike Singer, who can take three over-the-counter pain relievers and drink a can of caffeinated soda to get rid of a migraine, Daniel takes a daily preventative pill, which alleviates the severity of the pain but not the frequency of the migraines.

During times of stress, which are often during the school year, Daniel can get a migraine two to three times a week. Newman prescribed him a drug in the tryptamine class, which is an abortive medication that he uses in conjunction with an over-the-counter pain reliever.

“It’s like the veins in my head are tensing up and it’s a really intense feeling,” he said. “If it’s bad enough, it can make me sick to my stomach.”

Daniel said for him, triggers include a lack of sleep, a change in the weather, especially if it rains, and monosodium glutamate (MSG), which can be found in some pre-packaged foods or Chinese foods.

What's most frustrating for Daniel, is if he develops a migraine in class – making it difficult to absorb information – or if he develops pain around the time his friends want to hang out.

Singer became so involved in her son’s well-being and in learning what triggered his migraines and what medications and therapies worked for him, that she decided to start a blog on the subject.

“My husband is really into what’s going on in the digital world,” Singer said. “It was about two years ago that he was talking about blogs, and I thought, ‘this is really cool.’ It’s been a cathartic experience for me, an avenue to put some things out there that I’ve learned and help other moms deal with this situation."

Click here to read Robin Singer's blog: "Migraine Management for Children."