Headaches and Migraines

Mary Bridge Children’s Hospital & Health Network treats many children who have chronic headaches and migraines. Our team of specialists works together to evaluate the cause, find effective treatment and minimize days missed at school.

Why Choose Mary Bridge for Headache or Migraine Treatment?

Parents choose us for headache evaluation and treatment because we provide:

  • Thorough, efficient diagnosis: Our experts work with you to identify the underlying cause of headaches. Get more information on  diagnosis and testing.
  • Expert care close to home: We see a large number of pediatric patients with chronic headaches and migraines. Our convenient locations across the South Puget Sound area means you do not have to travel to Seattle for care. Learn more about  our locations.
  • Comprehensive support: We work closely with schools to ensure children have the appropriate accommodations. We also provide referrals to other specialists who can help children cope with headaches and address any learning challenges. Find out more about our  support services.

Types of Headaches We Treat

Symptoms of headaches vary in children depending on the type of headache. Types of headaches children may experience include migraines, tension headaches and cluster headaches.


Migraines can be genetic. A child whose parent or family member has migraines will have an increased risk of getting migraines. Symptoms of migraines in children include:

  • Pounding head pain that gets worse with physical activity
  • Nausea and vomiting
  • Sensitivity to light and sound
  • Crying and holding the head, in babies who cannot explain what is wrong

Tension headaches

Symptoms of tension headaches in children include:

  • Muscle tightness in the head or neck
  • Moderate pain across the entire head
  • Pain that is not usually associated with vomiting
  • Desire to sleep more

Cluster headaches

This type of headache is rare in children. Symptoms include:

  • Five or more headaches over the course of a week
  • Sharp pain on one side of the head
  • Congestion or runny nose
  • Restlessness and agitation

Rebound headaches

Rebound headaches are caused by regular, long-term use or overuse of medication to treat headaches, such as migraine. Pain relievers offer relief for occasional headaches, but taking them more than a couple of days per week can trigger rebound headaches.

Diagnosing Headaches and Migraines

It can be difficult for children to describe their symptoms, but our specialists are experienced in helping pinpoint causes and effective treatments. The first step is to rule out conditions such as a brain tumor, which may require tests such as:

  • CT (computerized tomography) scan: This procedure combines X-rays with computer technology to create detailed brain images. During the scan, your child will need to lie on a small table that slides through a large donut-shaped machine.
  • MRI (magnetic resonance imaging): This type of scan uses radio waves and powerful magnets to create detailed brain images. For an MRI, your child will lie on a small table that slides into a tunnel-shaped machine. An MRI takes approximately 40 minutes, possibly longer when a child requires sedation. We have technology available so your child can watch a movie during the MRI.

We have child life specialists available to explain procedures in child-friendly language and a sedation services team to help your child comfortable during any tests. We provide test results in as little as a week, but results may take up to two weeks when tests take place outside our facility. Learn more about  diagnosis and testing.

We will also work with your child to identify if lifestyle factors such as sleep, dietary habits or learning issues are at play. Lifestyle factors that may contribute to headaches include:

  • Not getting enough exercise or sleep
  • Dietary issues such as fructose malabsorption, where the body cannot properly absorb a certain type of sugar
  • Learning challenges that impact your child’s emotional state

Headache and Migraine Treatment at Mary Bridge

Our experts work with you to create a personalized treatment plan for your child. Headache treatments may include:

  • Antihistamine medicine, such as Periactin (cyproheptadine)
  • Beta blocker medication, such as Inderal® (propranolol)
  • Anti-seizure medication, such as TOPAMAX® (topiramate)
  • Antidepressant medication, such as Elavil® (amitriptyline)
  • Dietary supplements, such as riboflavin (vitamin B2)

Comprehensive Headache and Migraine Support

Headaches can cause children to miss a lot of school, so we work closely with your child’s school to ensure appropriate accommodations are in place. Mary Bridge’s pediatric psychologists can help children cope with the problem and address underlying causes. We may also recommend additional testing to evaluate any learning challenges or emotional problems.

Contact Us

Call us at 253-792-6630 to make an appointment with one of our specialists.