How to know if a child's headache could be something more serious

  • About 20% of children will experience headaches, but there are signs that a headache can be something more serious.

    About 20% of children will experience headaches, but there are signs that a headache can be something more serious. Stock Photo

  • Dr. John Ruge

    Dr. John Ruge

By Dr. John Ruge
Advocate Children’s Hospital
Posted6/18/2022 7:00 AM

Headaches in children are very common. In fact, 20% of children will experience headaches. While they can be caused by a variety of issues, headaches can also be the first sign of a brain tumor.

While very rare, childhood brain tumors are the most common solid tumor of childhood. It is second only to leukemia of all childhood cancers. Brain tumors account for approximately 15% to 20% of all cancers in individuals under 15 years of age. Between 4,000 to 5,000 new primary pediatric brain tumors, or 5 in 100,000 children, will be diagnosed in the United States this year.


So how do I know if my child has a brain tumor? There are several symptoms that could signal a diagnosis.

• Headaches that become more frequent and severe; not localized on one side or the other.

• Headaches with nausea and vomiting.

• Headaches that are not responding to measures and treatments recommended by your pediatrician.

• A new neurological issue, such as a change in balance, swallowing difficulties, double vision, new weakness or seizure.

• Irritability and drowsiness or personality change.

Of course, any change in your child's condition that concerns you should be brought to your pediatrician's attention. He or she may recommend an MRI or will refer you to a pediatric neurologist or neurosurgeon.

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Tremendous progress has been made in the treatment of children with brain tumors. Surgery, chemotherapy, as well as radiation and novel therapies, can be very effective.

At Advocate Children's Hospital, a multidisciplinary team of health care professionals, including neurologists and neurosurgeons, specialize in the treatment of pediatric brain tumors. For more information, go to

• Children's health is a continuing series. Dr. John Ruge is a pediatric neurosurgeon at Advocate Children's Hospital.

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