Abdominal migraines during elementary and middle school

Abdominal Migraines

Abdominal Migraines

Abdominal migraines during elementary and middle school

Abdominal migraines may sound like an oxymoron. The truth is, they are not migraines at all, but are named after the sensation in the stomach that they cause. They affect children in their elementary and middle school years, and usually subside as children reach adolescence. Unlike a typical bellyache, which can affect all parts of the stomach, children with abdominal migraines typically experience the pain in the center of the body, specifically around the belly button or midline. Symptoms come on quickly and without much warning. The nausea, aching, and vomiting may range in severity and can last anywhere from hours to several days. While there are many theories about what causes abdominal migraines, much is still unknown. Children whose parents experience regular migraines are more likely to suffer from abdominal migraines; they are also more likely to experience migraine headaches later in adulthood.




Impact in the Classroom

Strategies for the educator

Because of their sudden onset and range of severity, students who suffer from abdominal migraines are more prone to absenteeism and tardiness. In fact, many students with a formal diagnosis of abdominal migraines may qualify for a 504 plan, which helps to implement proactive accommodations to account for missed classes and/or entire chunks of school days.

If parents have yet to request a 504 plan, teachers can suggest a plan or initiate a parent/teacher conference to discuss the benefits of arranging an academic health plan to best suit the student’s needs.

Absenteeism can cause students to miss crucial instruction and fall behind in assignments. In addition to the effect on their grades and overall learning, students can become stressed because of their prolonged absences.  

Common modifications and accommodations to help students stay on top of their assignment when dealing with abdominal migraines include:


  • Reduced workload, meaning that teachers determine which tasks are imperative for students to complete in order to meet the
    objective and assign only those tasks
  • Extended time for larger assignments, usually time and a half, to ensure that students have opportunities to seek clarification, ask additional questions, and pace themselves
  • Teacher notes and outlines, which help to fill in the gaps that absences may have caused; notes also ensure that students are able to absorb the key points from certain lessons that they may have missed
  • Frequent check-ins and checking for understanding allow teachers to gauge the student’s ability to begin a major assignment or assessment; if a student appears to be missing concepts or lacking skills, the check-in will bring those gaps to light   

Since symptoms of abdominal migraines can come on quickly and severely, with little to no warning, students may need to be excused from class with no time to plan in advance.

To ensure that students make it to the nurse/health room before symptoms become extreme, teachers, parents, and administrators should see about providing the student with a flash pass for the health room.

The same triggers that might provoke a typical migraine are also known to trigger a child’s abdominal migraine. Food additives and preservatives, stress, bright lights, strong smells, and physical or mental exertion could induce an abdominal migraine.

Teachers should be sure to monitor a student’s lethargy and fatigue and offer frequent breaks during long periods of work time or testing. Short breaks during transitions between classes and/or activities can also help stave off abdominal migraines caused by exertion or stress.


Teachers can also utilize dimmers or softer lighting options, as opposed to the typical overhead fluorescent lights. Plastic, colored overlays also help if white computer paper or bright white textbook paper irritates a student’s vision.



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