Abdominal migraine

Last revised by Jeremy Jones on 15 Sep 2021

Abdominal migraine is a syndrome that presents as recurrent episodes of severe paroxysmal abdominal pain, coupled with vasomotor symptoms, nausea, and emesis that lasts for at least 1 hour 3. Historically it has tended to be a pediatric diagnosis, but it is now increasingly seen in adults. It is one of the functional gastrointestinal disorders (FGIDs) 1. Similar to the other functional GI disorders its pathogenesis remains unresolved despite extensive ongoing work 1,2.

Several research studies have established a range in prevalence from 0.4-4% 1. Studies suggest that the majority of children affected do not experience the condition into adulthood.

Diagnosis employs both the International Classification of Headache Disorders diagnostic criteria and Rome criteria.

Establishing the diagnosis requires at least two discrete episodes in a one-year period.

These episodes must consist of:

  1. paroxysmal episodes of intense, acute periumbilical pain that lasts for one hour or more
  2. intervening periods of usual health lasting weeks to months
  3. pain interferes with normal activities
  4. pain is associated with two of the following 3:
    • anorexia (loss of appetite)
    • nausea
    • vomiting
    • headache
    • photophobia
    • pallor
  5. no evidence of an inflammatory, anatomic, metabolic, or neoplastic process that could explain the patient's symptoms

No specific pathological diagnostic markers exist.

By definition (see above) all imaging of the GI system should be unremarkable. 

An ideal management framework remains to be established. Nevertheless the key initial step is to exclude serious underlying organic disease e.g. inflammatory bowel disease and malignancy. 

Symptomatic therapy, e.g. analgesics and antiemetics is useful.

The long term prognosis of abdominal migraine remains undetermined, however, it is clear that affected children have an increased risk of developing 'classic' migrainous headaches.

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