Time for bed and breakfast

First came tummy aches, then headaches and worse. A consultant prescribed cereals at night. It worked. Annabel Ferriman on the latest treatments for the many children who develop migraine

Thomas Grant started having strange tummy aches when he was five. About every six weeks, he would wake in the morning feeling ill with a sore tummy and lie in bed until late. Then he would suddenly feel better, eat a large breakfast and go to school. Thomas's GP, in Oxfordshire, insisted it was nothing but a tummy bug. "But it wasn't like a normal bug, because there was no diarrhoea and he was always very hungry after a couple of hours or so," his mother, Maureen Grant, recalls. Then a year ago Thomas, now eight, started to get headaches with his tummy aches and saw spots. Mrs Grant was very worried, thinking that Thomas might have something seriously wrong, possibly a brain tumour.

The family had moved to Aberdeenshire, and she took her son to a GP there.The doctor suggested that he was suffering from migraine, the tummy aches being "abdominal migraine". Thomas was referred to the Royal Aberdeen Children's Hospital. There, the Grants struck lucky because they saw a consultant who had long been interested in childhood migraine.

Dr George Russell, a paediatrician and a reader in child health at Aberdeen University, was pioneering a "breakfast at bedtime"treatment - taking a starchy snack, such as a breakfast cereal, just before bed - which has helped hundreds of children and is now recommended by other specialists.

"We noticed that quite a lot of children brought to the clinic were waking up in the morning with headaches, especially those with abdominal migraine," Dr Russell says. "They also frequently had migraines at weekends, when they got up later. We decided it could be due to the blood sugar level falling too low. Some children have supper at about 5.30pm or 6pm and then do not eat anything until they wake up at about7am, which is a long time to go without food.

"So we suggested to parents that they give their child a starchy breakfast cereal just before putting them to bed, at say 8.30pm or 9pm, to see if that helped. In eight out of 10 cases, we found that it did. A starchy cereal is digested quite slowly, so that it provides a night-long drip- feed of sugar."

Mrs Grant started giving her son Weetabix just before bed, at 9pm, and found a huge difference. "He has been much, much better since then," she says. "He occasionally still gets a headache, but just a mild one, and he is never laid low with it." Thomas is also pleased. "It felt really, really bad before. Now I sometimes get a headache but it goes away quickly."

One of the hurdles the Grants initially faced was the belief that children do not get migraine. In fact, at least 250,000 children suffer from the condition (characterised by recurrent bouts of headache with nausea and vomiting) and the incidence could be far higher. A study of 2,000 schoolchildren in Aberdeen showed 10 per cent were affected, missing twice as many school days as other children. Before puberty the disorder affects both sexes equally, but adolescent girls suffer more commonly than boys.

The other problem for families such as the Grants is the failure to recognise abdominal migraine, which was identified 100 years ago and whose symptoms include recurring abdominal pain, nausea, pallor, fever, dizziness and limb pains. A recent study in Birmingham showed that about 1 per cent of schoolchildren suffer from abdominal migraine, the condition peaking between the ages of five and seven.

Dr Russell emphasises that his breakfast treatment does not work in all cases, because lack of food is not always the culprit. "It is a mistake to look for a single trigger in migraine, because there are many," he says. "But a late evening snack is certainly worth trying in children who wake up with a headache."

For other children, there are other solutions. Dr Anne MacGregor, a registrar at the City of London Migraine Clinic, has three rules: identify and avoid triggers, treat symptoms early and keep the treatment simple.

Triggers can include lack of food and sleep, exercise, excitement, stress, bright lights and loud noises. Resting, reducing all stimuli, shutting curtains, minimising noise, and applying hot and cold compresses to the head can help.

"Unfortunately parents often do not recognise their child's problem as migraine and, even where they do, they do not always consult a doctor, in the mistaken belief that nothing can be done for it," she says. "When drug treatment is needed, the least toxic drugs should be given. In practice, this means paracetamol tablets or syrup."

One child whose migraine has been helped by early intervention is Christopher Murty,12, from Dunblane, Scotland. His GP suggested that his problem might be hypoglycaemia (low blood sugar), because the attacks often came on just after football or running.

Christopher's problem got so bad that on several occasions, including once last summer, when he was standing in a Boys Brigade parade, he fainted. His mother, Margaret Murty, finally took him to a migraine specialist, Dr Ishaq Abu-Arefeh, then at Stirling Royal Infirmary, who diagnosed migraine and recommended early treatment. "Now, as soon as he feels an attack starting, he takes paracetamol and goes to bed," she says. "That seems to work for him. It has helped a lot. It was a relief just knowing what was wrong." Christopher adds: "It was a horrid feeling. I felt dizzy and then I knew that I would feel sick, and have a headache and a stabbing pain in my right eye. The attacks have been as frequent since I saw the doctor, but not as bad, because I act more quickly."

Dr Abu-Arefeh has established a headache clinic for children at the Royal Hospital for Sick Children in Glasgow, and thinks the unit is probably the first of its type in Europe. He believes it will be useful for research and would like to discover whether the mechanisms and physiology of childhood migraine is the same as for adult migraine, and to investigate the genetic basis.

"The breakthrough has not yet arrived and most of the research is scratching at the surface," he says. "But there are many ways in which you can help patients. If they know what to do when they get an attack, that is a great improvement".

Life and Style
ebookA wonderful selection of salads, starters and mains featuring venison, grouse and other game
Luis Suarez looks towards the crowd during the 2-1 victory over England
Life and Style
Cheesecake frozen yoghurt by Constance and Mathilde Lorenzi
food + drinkThink outside the cool box for this summer’s frozen treats
John Barrowman kisses his male “bride” at a mock Gretna Green during the Commonwealth Games opening ceremony
peopleBarrowman's opening ceremony message to Commonwealth countries where he would be sent to prison for being gay
Sir Bradley Wiggins removes his silver medal after the podium ceremony for the men’s 4,000m team pursuit in Glasgow yesterday
Commonwealth games Disappointment for Sir Bradley in team pursuit final as England are forced to settle for silver
Alistair Brownlee (right) celebrates with his gold medal after winning the men’s triathlon alongside brother Jonny (left), who got silver
England's Jodie Stimpson won the women’s triathlon in the morning
Travel Shop
the manor
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on city breaks Find out more
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on chic beach resorts Find out more
sardina foodie
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on country retreats Find out more
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    iJobs Job Widget
    iJobs General

    Maths Teacher

    £120 per day: Randstad Education Chelmsford: Are you an enthusiastic Maths Tea...

    Urgently looking for Qualified Teachers and NQT's

    £110 - £120 per annum: Randstad Education Chelmsford: Urgently looking for Qua...

    SEN Teacher

    £100 - £120 per day: Randstad Education Chelmsford: Are you that teacher who c...

    SEN Teacher

    £100 - £120 per day: Randstad Education Chelmsford: Are you that teacher who c...

    Day In a Page

    Backhanders, bribery and abuses of power have soared in China as economy surges

    Bribery and abuses of power soar in China

    The bribery is fuelled by the surge in China's economy but the rules of corruption are subtle and unspoken, finds Evan Osnos, as he learns the dark arts from a master
    Commonwealth Games 2014: Highland terriers stole the show at the opening ceremony

    Highland terriers steal the show at opening ceremony

    Gillian Orr explores why a dog loved by film stars and presidents is finally having its day
    German art world rocked as artists use renowned fat sculpture to distil schnapps

    Brewing the fat from artwork angers widow of sculptor

    Part of Joseph Beuys' 1982 sculpture 'Fettecke' used to distil schnapps
    BBC's The Secret History of Our Streets reveals a fascinating window into Britain's past

    BBC takes viewers back down memory lane

    The Secret History of Our Streets, which returns with three films looking at Scottish streets, is the inverse of Benefits Street - delivering warmth instead of cynicism
    Joe, film review: Nicolas Cage delivers an astonishing performance in low budget drama

    Nicolas Cage shines in low-budget drama Joe

    Cage plays an ex-con in David Gordon Green's independent drama, which has been adapted from a novel by Larry Brown
    How to make your own gourmet ice lollies, granitas, slushy cocktails and frozen yoghurt

    Make your own ice lollies and frozen yoghurt

    Think outside the cool box for this summer's tempting frozen treats
    Ford Fiesta is UK's most popular car of all-time, with sales topping 4.1 million since 1976

    Fiesta is UK's most popular car of all-time

    Sales have topped 4.1 million since 1976. To celebrate this milestone, four Independent writers recall their Fiestas with pride
    10 best reed diffusers

    Heaven scent: 10 best reed diffusers

    Keep your rooms smelling summery and fresh with one of these subtle but distinctive home fragrances that’ll last you months
    Commonwealth Games 2014: Female boxers set to compete for first time

    Female boxers set to compete at Commonwealth Games for first time

    There’s no favourites and with no headguards anything could happen
    Five things we’ve learned so far about Manchester United under Louis van Gaal

    Five things we’ve learned so far about United under Van Gaal

    It’s impossible to avoid the impression that the Dutch manager is playing to the gallery a little
    Screwing your way to the top? Good for Lana Del Rey for helping kill that myth

    Screwing your way to the top?

    Good for Lana Del Rey for helping kill that myth, says Grace Dent
    Will the young Britons fighting in Syria be allowed to return home and resume their lives?

    Will Britons fighting in Syria be able to resume their lives?

    Tony Blair's Terrorism Act 2006 has made it an offence to take part in military action abroad with a "political, ideological, religious or racial motive"
    Beyoncé poses as Rosie the Riveter, the wartime poster girl who became a feminist pin-up

    Beyoncé poses as Rosie the Riveter

    The wartime poster girl became the ultimate American symbol of female empowerment
    The quest to find the perfect pair of earphones: Are custom, 3D printed earbuds the solution?

    The quest to find the perfect pair of earphones

    Earphones don't fit properly, offer mediocre audio quality and can even be painful. So the quest to design the perfect pair is music to Seth Stevenson's ears
    US Army's shooting star: Lt-Col Steven Cole is the man Hollywood calls when it wants to borrow a tank or check a military uniform

    Meet the US Army's shooting star

    Lt-Col Steven Cole is the man Hollywood calls when it wants to borrow a tank or check a military uniform