Acute and Chronic Headache Management in Children and Teens

When child and adolescent patients complain to their parents about a headache, it can be anything from a plea to stay home from school in hopes of avoiding a test, to a sign of something more serious. Dr. Sharief Taraman, a pediatric neurologist at CHOC Children’s, offers advice to the referring community on acute and chronic headache management in children and teens, including headache hygiene, non-medical intervention options, and referral guidelines.

Dr. Sharief Taraman, a pediatric neurologist at CHOC Children’s

Types of headaches often seen in children and adolescents

Migraine symptoms in kids

  • At least 5 attacks that meet the following criteria:
  • Headache lasting 1 – 72 hours
  • Headache has at least two of the following features:
    • Pain on both side or one side of the head
    • Pain is pulsating
    • Moderate to severe intensity
    • Aggravated by routine physical activities
  • At least one of the following:
    • Nausea and/or vomiting
    • Sensitivity to light or noise
  • Chronic migraines are indicated by 15 headache days per month over a three-month period, and at least half of those are migraines.
  • About 1 out of every 20 kids, or about 8 million children in the United States, gets migraines. Before age 10, an equal number of boys and girls get migraines. But after age 12, during and after puberty, migraines affect girls three times more often than boys.

Tension headache symptoms in kids

  • Headache lasting from 30 minutes to seven days
  • Headache has at least two of the following characteristics:
    • Pain in two locations
    • Pressing or tightening feeling (not a pulsing pain)
    • Mild to moderate intensity
    • Not aggravated by routine physical activity such as walking or climbing stairs
  • No nausea or vomiting – many children experience a loss of appetite
  • Either sensitivity to light or sensitivity to sound
  • Tension headaches occur most often in children ages 9-12

Cluster headache symptoms in kids

  • At least five headaches that meet the following criteria:
    • Severe pain in one location: within the eye, above the eyebrow, or on the forehead, that lasts from 15 minutes to three hours when left untreated
  • Headache is accompanied by at least one of the following symptoms on the same side of the body as their headache:
    • Conjunctival injection and/or lacrimation
    • Nasal congestion and/or excess mucus in the nose
    • Eyelid swelling
    • Forehead and facial swelling
    • Droopy eyelid and/or small pupil
    • A restlessness or agitation
    • Cluster headaches usually start in children at around 10 years old

Post traumatic headache symptoms in kids

  • Acute post traumatic headache: lasts less than three months and caused by a traumatic injury to the head
  • Persistent post traumatic headache: lasts more than three months and caused by a traumatic injury to the head
  • Both acute and persistent headaches develop within one week of: the injury to the head, regaining of consciousness following injury to the head, or discontinuing medicine that impairs the ability to sense a headache following a head injury
  • Extended recovery risk factors:
    • Prolonged loss of consciousness or amnesia
    • Females
    • Initial symptom severity
    • Premorbid history of ADHD, mood disorders, and migraines

Sleep apnea headache symptoms in kids

  • Typically a morning headache
  • Pain is present on both sides of the head
  • Lasts more than four hours
  • Not accompanied by nausea, nor sensitivity to light or sound

Medication overuse headache symptoms in kids

  • Headaches on 15 or more days per month
  • Takes over-the-counter medication for headaches more than three times per week over a three-month period
  • Headache has developed or gotten worse during medication overuse
  • Pattern of headaches resolves or improves within two months after discontinuing the overused medication.

Remind parents of headache hygiene tips

There are a number of things parents can do to prevent headaches, says Dr. Taraman. Remind parents to practice headache hygiene:

Non-medical interventions

A variety of non-medical interventions can be helpful for children who are suffering from headaches, including ice packs; warm baths; taking a nap in a cool, dark room; neck and back massage; and taking a walk.

Medication as treatment for headaches in children

Nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs), such as ibuprofen or naproxen, should be limited to no more than three days per week, with no more than two doses per day, in order to avoid medication overuse headaches.

Triptans are often used to treat moderate to severe migraines or cluster headaches, but should not be prescribed to patients with cardiovascular disease, uncontrolled hypertension, basilar migraine or hemiplegic migraine.

Encourage patients to keep a headache diary

Encourage your patients to keep a journal of their headaches so you can identify a pattern. Patients should keep track of:

  • Headache start date and time
  • What happened just before the headache?
  • How much did your head hurt, on a 0-10 pain scale?
  • Where did your head hurt?
  • What did you feel just before and during the headache?
  • What did you do to make yourself feel better?
  • Did you feel better, on a 0-10 pain scale?
  • Headache end date and time

When to refer cases of headaches to pediatric neurologists

Dr. Taraman offers the following guidelines on when to refer headaches to a pediatric neurologist for imaging:

  • Diagnosis of neurofibromatosis of tuberous sclerosis
  • Immunosuppressed child
  • If the child is awoken on a regular basis by headache pain or vomiting
  • Headaches beginning shortly after arising from bed in the morning (i.e., positional headache)
  • Syncope
  • Chronic progressive headaches
  • Persistently posterior headaches
  • Chronic headaches in patients less than 3-5 years old

When patients have a history of the following symptoms during headaches, Dr. Taraman offers the following guidelines on when to refer headaches for imaging and possible neurology consultation:

  • Double vision
  • Abnormal eye movements and/or nystagmus
  • Unilateral ptosis or complete 3rd nerve palsy
  • Motor or gait dysfunction or hemiplegia
  • Hemisensory disturbance
  • Confusion
  • Vertigo

CHOC is the only specialized imaging facility in Orange County just for children, and we only use board-certified pediatric radiologists and specially trained pediatric radiology technologists, nurses and child life specialists.

Parents should immediately be sent to the emergency room for headaches when:

There are some clear instances of severe headaches that warrant an immediate trip to the emergency room, says Dr. Taraman. These include:

  • Thunderclap headache: severe, sudden onset of pain that occurs anywhere in the head, and grabs your attention like a clap of thunder. Pain usually peaks within 60 seconds to a few minutes.
  • Any headache that comes with acute focal neurologic deficit.
  • Changes in vision due to papilledema, which can include blurred or double vision, flickering, or complete loss of vision.
  • If the child had a shunt placed for a condition such as hydrocephalus, and it becomes obstructed or infected, they can show symptoms of untreated hydrocephalus.

Learn more about the Neuroscience Institute at CHOC Children’s.

 

Patients Say the Darndest Things – Happy Doctor’s Day!

In celebration of Doctor’s Day, we asked a few of our physicians what’s the funniest thing a patient has ever told you?

Dr. Mary Jane Piroutek

Dr. Mary Jane Piroutek, emergency medicine specialist

Q: What’s the funniest thing a patient has ever told you?

A:  Kids say funny things all the time. One of my favorites was a little 4 -year-old girl who had ingested coins and they were stuck in her esophagus. When I asked her what happened she shrugged her shoulder and with a mischievous look in her eyes said, “I ate the money, I’m not supposed to eat the money.”  Also recently a patient told me I looked like Snow White (which I don’t) and she called me Dr. Snow White the whole time I took care of her.

 

Dr. Gary Goodman

Dr. Gary Goodman, medical director, pediatric intensive care unit, CHOC Children’s at Mission Hospital

Q: What’s the funniest thing a patient has ever told you?

A: Just recently, I had a patient, who has a mild developmental delay, call me “the boy.”  I would stop in the patient’s room each morning, at which point I’d get asked, “What do YOU want?”

 

Dr. Kenneth Kwon

Dr. Kenneth Kwon, emergency medicine specialist

Q: What’s the funniest thing a patient has ever told you?

A: An adage in pediatric emergency care is when a child comes in with a nosebleed, you don’t ask if he picks his nose, you ask him which finger he uses. When I asked this question to one of my pint-sized patients, he answered that he used all of them, and then proceeded to demonstrate by sticking each of his 10 fingers in his nose individually. It was priceless.

 

Dr. Maryam Gholizadeh

Dr. Maryam Gholizadeh, general and thoracic surgeon

Q: What’s the funniest thing a patient has ever told you?

A: There was a young child around 8-9 years old and we were going to remove his appendix with laparoscopy. I was standing on his left side because with laparoscopy we make our incision on the left side. Just before he went to sleep he looked up at me and said, “Why are you standing on my left? My appendix is on the right.” I was amazed at how knowledgeable this kid was!

 

Dr. Jennifer Ho

Dr. Jennifer Ho, hospitalist

Q: What’s the funniest thing a patient has ever told you?

A: “I want to be a doctor like you … but only for unicorns and fairies.”

 

Dr. Andrew Mower

Dr. Andrew Mower, neurologist

Q: What’s the funniest thing a patient has ever told you?

A: “I don’t eat apples, doctor.”

“Why?”

“Because they keep the doctor away, and I like you, Dr. Mower.”

 

Dr. Laura Totaro

Dr. Laura Totaro, hospitalist

Q: What’s the funniest thing a patient has ever told you?

A: I was examining the mouth of my patient when he proudly showed me his loose tooth and whispered to me that his family had a secret. He then excitedly admitted that his mom was the tooth fairy!  His mother looked at me quizzically and then burst out laughing when she realized what had taken place. Earlier she had admitted to him that she played the role of tooth fairy at home but her son took this quite literally and believed it to actually be her secret full time job for all children.

 

Dr. Mustafa Kabeer

Dr. Mustafa Kabeer, general and thoracic surgeon

Q: What’s the funniest thing a patient has ever told you?

A: A patient asked me what my first name was, and I told him it was Mustafa. He then promptly told me that was the name of his pet lizard!

 

Dr. Sharief Taraman

Dr. Sharief Taraman, neurology

Q: What’s the funniest thing a patient has ever told you?

A: One of my patients told me that I look like the character Flint Lockwood from Cloudy With A Chance of Meatballs and another one thinks I look like the character Linguini from the movie Ratatouille, both of which I found very funny.  Apparently, I give off the nerdy guy vibe.

CHOC Children’s Grand Rounds Video: Cognitive Side to Mental Health and the Psychology Behind Concussions

A concussion or mild traumatic brain injury is defined as a transient neurologic change resulting from a biomechanical impact to the head. Given this broad definition, it is not surprising that concussion represents the most common type of traumatic brain injury (TBI). Concussions can be complicated and multifaceted, as patients usually present with various combinations of neurologic, cognitive and psychiatric symptoms, Drs. Sharief Taraman and Jonathan Romain said in a recent grand rounds presentation at CHOC Children’s.

Adolescents represent a commonly seen subgroup within the concussion population, most notably because of their frequent involvement in sports and higher-risk activities. Additionally, when injuries do occur at the high school and college level, the impact velocities tend to be at a higher rate than is seen in younger athletes, potentially resulting in more pronounced concussions. Further complicating the situation is that adolescents tend to have busy schedules and multiple responsibilities throughout the school year (when most concussions occur). Thus, when a concussion is sustained, the student athlete not only needs to deal with the immediate symptoms of the injury, but also the potential for academic and social derailment during the recovery process. Combine these issues with a strong body of literature suggesting adolescents tend to have slower resolution than do adults, and you have the recipe for a very bumpy recovery.

The doctors explain that cognitive symptoms manifest as slower processing speed, feeling foggy, and occasional forgetting or transient confusion.  Psychiatric symptoms often include irritability, liability and sadness. A child may have one or many of these symptoms, although more often these symptoms overlap. The patient and their family may not recognize how persistent symptoms of headache and dizziness, for example, can contribute to memory problems and difficulty concentrating, irritability, and feelings of depression and hopelessness. Children with prolonged symptoms also can feel isolated from their peers while they are sitting out of play and school.

Learn more about CHOC’s Concussion Program.

View previous grand rounds videos.

Stroke in Pediatric Patients: Occurrence, Intervention and Beyond

By Dr. Sharief Taraman

Many might picture a stroke patient as middle aged or elderly, but

Dr. Sharief Taraman, CHOC Children's pediatric neurologist
Dr. Sharief Taraman, CHOC Children’s pediatric neurologist

the reality is that the ailment occurs across the lifespan.

A stroke affects one in every 3,500 live births and six to 13 per 100,000 children per year.  At CHOC Children’s, that translates to one or two patients per month outside the newborn period.

Among many risk factors, the largest for stroke in children include cardiac disease (19 percent); coagulation disorders (14 percent); and dehydration (11 percent). Multiple risk factors are present in up to 25 percent of pediatric stroke patients.

Atherosclerosis and modifiable risk factors that dominate adult stroke mechanism and treatment were nearly non-existent in pediatric stroke. However, in the past decade and a half, traditional cardiovascular risk factors for stroke in people ages 15 to 34 have been steadily increasing.

Placental diseases can cause perinatal arterial stroke, and perinatal stroke accounts for a large proportion of pediatric stroke morbidity. The first week of life carries the most risk for stroke and the majority of survivors have lifelong morbidity, most typically, hemiparetic cerebral palsy. Cognitive or behavioral disorders and epilepsy are also common.

Acute ischemic stroke (AIS) lesions are often multifocal, even in the absence of overt cardiac disease, which lends support to proximal embolic source. Many neonates with AIS have risk factors and presentations that overlap with hypoxic ischemic encephalopathy, and the two can co-occur.

Delayed diagnosis

Despite these occurrences and the inherent dangers, a lack of awareness prevails and diagnosis of childhood stroke is often significantly delayed. One study found up to a 28-hour delay in seeking medical attention from the onset of symptoms and a 7.2 hour delay after presentation before any brain imaging occurred (Lenn, et al, 2002).

Further complicating matters is that presentation can be subtle, varied and non-specific, and often occurs in the setting of a systemic illness. One study found the median time to diagnose AIS in neonates was 87.9 hours and 24.8 hours in children (Mackay, et al 2009). Another study saw that 19 of 45 children with a stroke did not receive a correct diagnosis until 15 hours after initial presentation, and in some cases, up to three months afterward (DeVeber, et all 2006).

Also, many other diseases mimic a stroke: A fifth of children presenting for evaluation of suspected acute stroke have a “stroke mimic,” rather than an actual stroke (Shelhaas, Pediatrics, 2006). Stroke mimics include migraines and delirium, as well as seizure and tumor.

Intervention

High-powered clinical trials that guide adult stroke management – including antiplatelet and anticoagulant strategies; chemical and mechanical thrombolysis; stroke unit care; and many others – do not yet exist for children.

Of 687 children enrolled in the International Pediatric Stroke Study (2011), 15 patients received tissue plasminogen activator (tPA): nine underwent intravenous tPA and six underwent intra-arterial tPA. The median time to treatment from onset was 3.3 hours for intravenous alteplase and 4.5 hours for intra-arterial alteplase.

Of those patients, four had intracranial hemorrhage (non-symptomatic); one died from brainstem stroke; one died from massive stroke with herniation; one was discharged without deficits; and 12 were discharged with neurological deficits.

Intravenous tissue plasminogen activator (tPA) needs more study for safety, dosing and efficacy before it can be fully applied to pediatric patients. Dosing in children cannot be extrapolated from adult data or existing pediatric data.

Limited pediatric safety and effectiveness data also exists around neurointerventional techniques like intra-arterial tPA and mechanical thromboectomy. Early intervention results in better outcomes, though success rates depend heavily on the operator’s experience.

Rehabilitation, recurrence

Similar to the adult stroke population, rehabilitation is multifaceted and comprises neuropsychology; developmental monitoring; educational intervention; and physical, occupational, and speech therapies. Most of the functional recovery occurs in the first two to three months. The quality of functional recovery is better in the pediatric population; however, the prognosis worsens as the lesion size increases.

The risk of recurrence following a stroke is up to 25 percent and highest in the first three months of onset. The lowest risk of recurrence is in perinatal and cryptogenic stroke.

Like any other condition, prevention of pediatric stroke is important and many patients will be placed on antiplatelet or anticoagulation. Interestingly, children with some, few or no vaccinations are shown to be at risk of stroke seven times higher than those who received all or most vaccinations.

CHOC has a collaborative team with protocols in place to recognize and treat pediatric stroke aggressively. Learn more about the CHOC Children’s Neuroscience Institute.

2015 CHOC Children’s – UC Irvine Child Health Research Awards

We are pleased to announce that we just completed another round of the CHOC Children’s – UC Irvine Child Health Research Awards, our annual call for proposals that enhance research collaborations between CHOC and UC Irvine and further the Mission, Vision and strategic aims of the CHOC-UCI Child Health Research Strategic Plan. Intended to support research and collaboration in targeted areas of research excellence that align research strengths for focused growth and maximal translational impact, our call this year specifically solicited applications for two funding mechanisms, Pilot Collaborative Research Awards and Clinician Investigator Awards.

Child Health Research Award - UC Irvine Infographic

Pilot Collaborative Research Awards are intended to provide funds for collaborative projects in need of initial start-up funding to enable procurement of other independent support. These awards are designed to promote novel, translational research efforts that coalesce talented clinicians and researchers from CHOC and UC Irvine. Projects bring investigators from multiple disciplines from CHOC and UC Irvine together to identify targets for improved diagnosis, prevention, or treatment of a pediatric health problem relevant to the goals of the CHOC-UCI Child Health Research Strategic Plan.

Clinician Investigator Awards are intended to provide funds for clinician-investigator initiated projects in need of funding to advance study into a clinically relevant and important topic that has a high likelihood of impacting clinical practice and the positive experience of pediatric/ adolescent patients and their families. Priorities are given to proposals that are closely aligned with the research themes identified in the CHOC – UCI Child Health Research Strategic Plan. Projects identify targets for improved diagnosis, prevention, or treatment of a pediatric health problem relevant to the goals of the CHOC-UCI Child Health Research Strategic Plan. Collaborations between CHOC and UCI faculty are strongly encouraged, but not required.

This year we received 18 proposals, an increase of 13% over last year, covering a wide range of topics and specialties. After external academic peer reviews and committee discussions, we decided to fund 6 projects, 3 Pilot Collaborative Research Awards and 3 Clinician Investigator Awards.

Congratulations to the well-deserving recipients of the 2015 awards! They are listed below, in order of award type and Principle Investigator’s last name.

 

Pilot Collaborative Research Awards.

Principal Investigator: Dr. Gurpreet Ahuja

Collaborators: Drs. Nguyen PhamKevin Huoh, Naveen Bhandarkar, Carolyn Coughlan, Joon You

Project Title: NIR Imaging of Pediatric Sinuses

 

Principal Investigator: Dr. Tami John

Collaborators: Drs. Lilibeth Torno, Daniela Bota, Grace Mucci, Mary Zupanc, Jack Lin

Project Title: Cognitive Training to Promote Neuroplasticity and Neural Re-circuitry in Chemotherapy

Associated Cognitive Impairment

 

Principal Investigator: Dr. Calvin Li

Collaborators: Drs. John Weiss, Hong Yin, William Loudon

Project Title: A Tunable Engineered Tissue Graft Model for Repair of Traumatic Brain Injury

 

Clinician Investigator Awards

Principal Investigator: Dr. Antonio Arrieta

Collaborators: Drs. Katrine Whiteson, David Michalik

Project Title: Addressing the Fear Factor in Neonatal Serious Bacterial Infections: Distinguishing E Coli From Bacteremia, Urinary Tract Infection, and Bacteremic Urinary Tract Infection in Infants <28 Days vs. >28 Days to 90 Days Old by Pairing E. Coli Genome Analysis with Clinical Data

 

Principal Investigator: Dr. Joanne Starr

Collaborators: Drs. Richard Gates, Sharief Taraman, Mary Zupanc, Paul Yost, Michele Domico, Juliette Hunt, Tammy Yoon, Kimberley Lakes

Project Title: Seizures and Neurodevelopmental Outcomes in Mild Hypothermic Cardiopulmonary Bypass

 

Principal Investigators: Dr. Sharief Taraman and Ruth McCarty

Collaborators: Drs. William Loudon, Frank Hsu

Project Title: The Use of Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) as a Complementary Treatment of Pediatric and Young Adults with Post-Concussive Syndrome