Staying Positive with Chronic Migraines: Nate Schreck

Nate Schreck is a 13-year-old boy who set a goal this year to get his honor roll pin. To Nate, achieving an honor roll pin wouldn’t just show that he had gotten high grades, had high involvement and excellent citizenship – it would represent doing so with over 70 days of school absence, constant migraine attacks and suffering from symptoms hours after a migraine occurs.

Additionally, Nate plays the piano, participates in three sports and loves to read. Since he was diagnosed with chronic migraine condition, his admirable ability to stay positive speaks to his resilience in the face of the illness plaguing his everyday life.

Migraines are a common and disabling condition that affect about 12 percent of the American population and about 10 percent of school-aged children. They are more than just a “bad headache” – migraines are a genetic, neurological disease, of which symptoms and/or side effects include cognitive impairment, nausea or vomiting, dizziness, malaise, swelling of the face, depression, sensitivity to light or sound and dizziness.

One of the most disabling types of migraine is a chronic migraine, which can occur when a child has at least 15 headaches per month lasting more than four hours. This condition often severely impairs day-to-day activities, as it’s easy for kids with chronic migraines to fall behind in school or for a migraine to impact their daily performance.

Nate’s migraines affect him at school, where he has missed about two to three days per week since his migraines started to pick up in September. He had to switch around his schedule mid-year to make sure he was getting to all of his classes. Nate has put in a lot of effort to keep up his grades, but it can be disheartening when he thinks of what he could do if he didn’t have chronic migraines keeping him out of school. Regardless, Nate’s optimism helps him get through it.

“I try to keep a positive attitude and try to look on the bright side. If I don’t have a migraine, I try to celebrate that and be happy that day. I feel like if I can make the most of when I don’t have a migraine, that’s enough,” Nate said.

After Nate has a migraine, he finds himself in the postdrome stage and has a difficult time thinking clearly. He has a harder time studying, focusing and comprehending what he is learning. He has found help through his pediatric neurologist, who prescribed him medicine to ease the pain.

Chronic migraines are so painful, they can cause those affected to seek other home remedies in addition to medicine. Nate suggests taking a hot shower to try to relax. He has also tried essential oils and baths with magnesium salt.

Nate recalled one time this past year where the migraines were so bad, the doctors were planning on hooking him up to an IV. “I once had a migraine on and off for about a week. The attacks would come and I would take medicine and they wouldn’t go away. After six days, I had to go to the emergency room,” he said.  

Migraines affect children slightly differently than adults. The main attack can last for less time, but the child may feel sick and this symptom could be worse than the headache itself. In kids, the head pain usually affects the whole head instead of one side, and attacks are often shorter. Migraine symptoms can change from one attack to the next and differ from child to child.

For all children, migraines can be unpredictable and triggers often depend on the child. Some common triggers for migraines in children include:

  • Sleep
  • Dehydration
  • Change in diet
  • Lack of food
  • Stress
  • Excessive exercise
  • Environmental factors
  • Too much time on a computer screen

Migraines in children are commonly confused with a sinus infection, allergies or eyesight problems. Make sure your child sees a doctor to get an accurate diagnosis.

To help your child cope, encourage them to keep a headache diary to help identify triggers and more easily predict when a headache might occur. They should keep track of what they did before the onset of a migraine, how long it lasts, side effects, how severe the pain is and what they did to help alleviate the pain. This diary can be useful for a doctor when in diagnosing the condition and even for your child’s school so teachers and administrators can recognize when an attack might occur.

Even though Nate spends multiple hours per week in bed because of his migraines, he achieved his goal and received an honor roll pin, his optimistic attitude shining through. Nate’s key to his positivity? Remembering that the migraines aren’t going to last forever, and to make the most out of every day.

If you’re concerned that your child might be suffering from chronic migraines, make an appointment with your primary care physician to get proper care and treatment.

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Photo courtesy of the Schreck family

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