Abdominal Migraine: What Is It and How to Manage It?

Do you have to take a day off now and then due to a recurring pain in your stomach? While abdominal pain is a symptom that can be caused by a myriad of conditions, some lesser-known causes could be worth further consideration. Abdominal migraine affects both adults and children, the symptoms of which may be severe enough to disrupt daily routines. Read on to learn more about the causes of abdominal migraine, its prevention, and treatment.

What is abdominal migraine?

Abdominal migraine is characterized by severe abdominal pain that disrupts daily functioning. It can start early, with peak prevalence ages 6–12. Although considered a childhood disorder, it can transition to migraine headaches in adulthood. While there are some case reports of adults experiencing abdominal migraine, further research is necessary to better understand its presentation in this age group.

Research suggests that in the U.S., the prevalence of abdominal migraine among children is 9.2%. In adults, abdominal migraine is relatively uncommon. Many patients with abdominal migraine also experience episodic headaches. However, when patients do not have a headache, abdominal pain can be confused with other types of pain, such as irritable bowel syndrome, constipation, bowel obstruction, or renal diseases.

Researchers have observed a genetic influence on abdominal migraine. Children with abdominal migraine are more likely to have parents who experience abdominal migraines or migraine headaches. Family studies have shown that mutations in genes (CACNA1A, ATP1A2, and SCN1A genes) could cause some types of migraines. However, more studies are needed to examine the exact causes of abdominal migraines.

How does it differ from a migraine headache?

There are a few similarities between migraine headaches and abdominal migraine — they are episodic and affect females more than males.

However, there are some notable differences between these two disorders. Migraine headaches usually affect adults, while, as mentioned above, abdominal migraines are considered a childhood disorder. Moreover, the main location of pain (head vs. abdomen) is different in both disorders.

Symptoms of abdominal migraine

The symptoms are similar in children and adults. In 30% of patients, abdominal pain is not associated with headaches. Severe abdominal pain may last for 2–72 hours. Other symptoms accompanying abdominal migraine could be:

  • Nausea
  • Vomiting
  • Pallor
  • Headaches
  • Sensory sensitivity

Causes of abdominal migraine

Although there is no consensus about the exact causative factors, researchers have studied triggers associated with abdominal migraine.

Treatment for abdominal migraine

For most young patients, abdominal migraine tapers off during adolescence. However, medication becomes necessary in managing acute episodes.

Abdominal migraine treatment for children

Doctors recommend rest and analgesics as treatment. Patients may choose to stay in a dark, quiet room to avoid sensory stimulation. Analgesics, such as paracetamol or ibuprofen, may relieve the abdominal pain. Additionally, psychosocial interventions like cognitive behavioral therapy may be recommended if the abdominal migraine is associated with behavioral changes.

Abdominal migraine treatment for adults

At present, few case study reports on adult abdominal migraine are available. The treatment of abdominal migraine in adults is like that of children but with appropriate changes in drug dosages. Further randomized clinical trials are necessary to develop standard care in adults.

Mind-body therapies, such as meditation or mindfulness, may be useful. Talk to your doctor before you consider any alternative therapies to treat abdominal migraine.

How to prevent abdominal migraines?

Although patients with abdominal migraine report no symptoms between the episodes, doctors may prescribe medication to prevent acute episodes. Drugs such as propranolol, flunarizine, pizotifen, and sodium valproate are effective in most cases; however, limited data is available on using these drugs in abdominal migraine.

Lifestyle changes such as diet may help in supporting various types of migraine. For instance, a diet rich in folates, i.e., green leafy vegetables, may be useful. The role of probiotics in the management of migraine is not well understood. Although probiotics may help restore gut bacteria and support gut function. It is important to discuss with a health professional any dietary changes during abdominal migraine treatment.

In conclusion, abdominal migraine can disrupt daily lives. Along with severe abdominal pain, symptoms such as nausea and vomiting may be present. Acute episodes are usually managed with rest and medication. As a preventative treatment, doctors may prescribe drugs such as propranolol or flunarizine. Adopt a healthy lifestyle to reduce triggers such as stress, fatigue, or missing meals.


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