Handling School with Migraines and Other Chronic Conditions

Patient Expert

Starting the school year with Migraine disease can be a chore for the entire family. Students may feel apprehensive about handling their Migraines in school, while parents worry about whether or not their children's health care needs will be met by the school.

Migraine is a genetic neurological disease and may be episodic or chronic. Those students with episodic (occasional) Migraines can have their pain relief or abortive medication at the nurse's office and take it at the first sign of a Migraine attack. I'd like to discuss the responsibilities and needs for students whose Migraines have become chronic, or suffer from other chronic conditions.

There are four distinct elements in each student's school day:

  1. his/her family,
  2. the school's faculty and staff,
  3. the school district, and of course,
  4. the students themselves.

Students with chronic conditions such as Migraine disease or epilepsy are frequently absent from class. missing homework assignments, valuable instruction time and, of course, their friends. This not only upsets the student, but teachers, family and administrators too. If everyone involved worked together throughout the year with one goal in mind - the student having a successful year - I'm sure the year would be less stressful and finish on a much more positive note. Of course, this will benefit not only the student, but the family, school staff and the administration.

Since each element has a responsibility to make the student's year successful, let's take a look at what the family can do:

  • Notify the school of their child's diagnosis and health regime as early as possible. This is imperative, because schools aren't fond of surprises, and the more information we can give them the better.

  • ALWAYS make sure the school and/or nurse's office has enough medication on hand, in pharmacy containers with appropriate labels, and any other items from home necessary to make your child comfortable in school during a Migraine attack.

  • Remember to let the school know if anything changes regarding the health needs of your child and update the school accordingly, documenting everything. You may want to authorize your child's health care information to be exchanged between the doctor and school health staff to prevent any mistakes in your child's health care regime. The emergency cards we fill out at the beginning of each year are really important for students with Migraines because the school needs to reach you at any and all times in case of that emergency.

  • As adults, we must learn all we can about Migraine disease in order to take care of ourselves. Parents/guardians need to make sure children and adolescents know about their Migraines in an age-appropriate manner.

  • Another key component is to participate in developing a school plan for your child's needs and/or accommodations. This is when meeting with the school team to cultivate a plan to make sure your child's needs and accommodations are met in school.

  • And always send your child to school well rested, well fed, clean and happy!

The school's responsibilities are:

  • To identify children with chronic conditions such as Migraine and review their health records.

  • Arrange a meeting to discuss any accommodations and educational aids that might be needed with the family, student (if age-appropriate) teachers, specialized staff and Individualized Education Plan (IEP) and/or 504 Plan coordinators. If a plan is needed at this time, it is the school's responsibility is to make sure to put it in place, and then carry out the strategies are implemented correctly. This plan should include non-discriminatory activities for students with disabilities as well as a clear understanding and ability to comply with the American with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA), Section 504, and Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act of 1974 (FERPA), in addition to any state and local laws and district policies under Federal law.

  • Activities such as recess, field trips, physical education, and extracurricular activities need to be planned out with strategies put in place by the school so as not to disrupt the student's day too much.

  • The school, through the nurse's or health care office, will provide the student with a safe place he/she can take prescribed medication in an effective manner and have access to school medical staff during the day. Trained staff members need to be on hand to accommodate any special needs and/or emergencies students with chronic conditions may have during the school day, at all school-related activities.

  • Making sure proper records are confidentially kept to protect student and staff.

  • Most importantly, promote a learning environment that views students with chronic conditions the same as others except in regards to their health needs.

School district responsibilities can include:

  • Developing district-wide guidelines and protocol for chronically ill students.

  • Chronic Migraines comes with plenty of stigma, and it is the district's responsibility to promote acceptance and eradicate this stigma that surrounds Migraines and chronic illness.

  • Communication with families and authorized health care provider is important.

  • Making sure the staff who interact with chronically ill students have the proper training.

  • Confidential record keeping is a must as is case management for any student with a chronic condition.

  • Providing a safe, supportive learning environment is always a plus.

The student also has responsibilities in his/her health care.

  • Children need to learn about Migraines on an age-appropriate level and be able to communicate to their teachers when they aren't feeling well - and be taken seriously.

  • Students should able to notify an adult if he/she has concerns about managing their symptoms in school or the school environment itself.

  • Participating in their own health care and management at an age-appropriate level is always a good idea.

  • Making up missing work according to their plan.

  • Being a good, active student when feeling well.

For some students, school can be a real nightmare, as some of us can remember. If the student has Migraine disease or another headache disorder, it really has to be a team effort to make sure the school year is completed as smoothly as possible. With everyone on the same page, it is possible.


Public Health Information. Students With Chronic Illnesses: Guidance for Families, Schools, and Students. U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. School Health: MedlinePlus. 2002.

Medical review by John Claude Krusz, PhD, MD.