Migraines in Kids Could be Sign of Heart Defect


Kids who suffer from migraines with an aura may actually have an underlying heart defect known as patent foramen ovale (PFO), according to a new study published in the Journal of Pediatrics.

Approximately 15 percent of children suffer from the recurrent headache condition known as migraines. During episodes the child typically feels severe pain around the eyes, temples or forehead along with nausea, sense sensitivity, and sometimes dizziness. Approximately a third of a children with migraines also experience vision changes during episodes, known as an “aura”.

Kids With Migranes Twice As Likely To have PFO

In a research study done at the Primary Children's Medical Center in Salt Lake City it was discovered that children with migraines with aura have a significantly higher prevalence of PFO than those without. The researchers looked at 109 children between the ages of 6-19 who were diagnosed with migraines by pediatric neurologists in 2008-2009. Each of these children was given two-dimensional echocardiogram which is a standard diagnostic tool for PFO.

The researchers found that 50 percent of the children with migraines with aura had PFO, a figure double that of the general pediatric population.

Lead author on the study, Dr. Rachel T. McCandless wrote in the study's conclusion, “Children with migraine with aura have a significantly higher prevalence of PFO compared with those without aura or the general population. These data suggest that PFO may contribute to the [cause] of migraine with aura in children and have implications for clinical decision making.”

A Common and Benign Heart Defect


A PFO is a benign opening in the heart between the left and right chambers of the heart. This opening is normal while a baby is in the womb in order to allow blood to bypass the lungs and closes within several hours after birth. However, in as many as 1 in 4 people, this closure fails to occur, a condition known as PFO.

Typically, no treatment is necessary for PFO as it is not known to cause complications or other health problems.

Researchers do not fully understand why PFO may cause migraines. However, McCandless and her colleges indicated in the study's report that the opening between the chambers of the heart may allow some blood to bypass the lungs and go directly to the brain. This bypass may permit metabolic migraine triggers to reach the brain, which otherwise would have been cleared by the lungs had the PFO not been present.

This study group size was small and the researchers believe that a larger study is needed to fully understand the relationship between migraines in children and PFO. However, if further studies indicated that PFO is, indeed, a causative factor in then practitioners may be able to treat these children with a simple catheter device to close the heart's opening.

Rachel T. McCandless, Cammon B. Arrington, Douglas C. Nielsen, James F. Bale Jr., L.LuAnn Minich."Patent Foramen Ovale in Children with Migraine Headaches."Journal of Pediatrics, published online 31 March 2011. DOI 10.1016/j.jpeds.2011.01.062

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