A study at the University of Calgary is attempting to determine the cause of migraines in children and researchers are actively seeking additional migraine sufferers for analysis.

 “We’re looking at childhood migraine and trying to understand what’s going on in the brain,” explained Dr. Ashley Harris, an assistant professor in the department of radiology at the University of Calgary and the study's lead. “We think that there’s a change in the underlying brain chemistry that contributes to the emergency of migraine. We’re trying to use some testing of sensory processing as well as MRI, magnetic resonance imaging, to look at neurochemistry, these chemicals in the brain, to see if there’s imbalances that cause migraines.”

It’s believed approximately 1-in-25 children suffer from migraines but many go undiagnosed as the symptoms of pediatric migraine, including abdominal pain, differ from adult migraine. There are two main drugs used to prevent migraines in adults but the drugs have little to no effect on children.

“We know children have migraine but we actually know very little about childhood migraine. We know that there are differences between adult migraine and childhood migraine but the majority of our information is on adults.”

“This is one of the first studies to look at neurochemistry in childhood migraine.”

Mason Carson, 10, is among the participants of the study and knows all too well the pain of migraine.

“It hurts,” said Carson. “It feels like someone’s making loud noise right in my ear to make my head hurt.”

“Every time it happens, I shut down and can’t do anything.”

Carson say there have been times when his migraines have prevented him from having fun with his friends or at school.

Researchers are seeking a total of 60 children between the ages of 7 and 16 years old  (30 who suffer from migraine as well as 30 control subjects who do not suffer from migraine)  for their study, and efforts are made to ensure the testing is fun.

“We try to keep the scans short and interesting,” said Dr. Harris. “We let them watch movies as opposed to having them lie still looking at something boring. Then we do the computer game as well that looks at sensory processing or how you perceive tactile stimuli.”

Dr. Harris says it’s too early to draw any definitive conclusions from the early stages of the study but preliminary analysis suggests an increased imbalance in the levels of two chemicals found in the brain are indicative of an oncoming migraine. She says predicting migraine is an initial step in their effort to address migraine.

“What we would rather do is prevent them,” said Dr. Harris. “That’s the long term goal, to understand what’s going on to cause a migraine in the first place and then we can develop therapies to better prevent them from happening at all.”

“Probably the most benefit would be from understanding what the neurochemistry is doing to make sure that that imbalance doesn’t occur in the first place, understanding how diet or exercise influences that neurochemistry, or that imbalance, that eventually tips somebody over to having a migraine.”

For additional information on participating in the study, email the University of Calgary’s Harris Lab Group.

With files from CTV's Alesia Fieldberg