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Dome - Drawing Down the Pain

Dome March 2015

Drawing Down the Pain

Date: February 27, 2015


Carl Strafstrom
Photo by Keith Weller

Pediatric neurologist Carl Stafstrom asks his young patients to draw pictures of themselves in the throes of headache pain. The colored-pencil results, some sophisticated, some stick-figure simple, show heads bashed by hammers, squeezed by vises or struck by lightning. Children rest indoors while their friends play outside. They vomit. Faces are streaked with tears, spots swim in front of eyes, and sunlight and music antagonize.

Over more than two decades, Stafstrom has amassed about 1,500 headache illustrations, each one a window into symptoms that are invisible to doctors and equipment, such as sensitivity to light and noise for migraines, or the pressure sensation that is characteristic of tension headaches. “Children, especially young ones, may not be able to express their symptoms in words,” Stafstrom says. His published studies show that these drawings can help neurologists tell migraines from other headaches and track treatment effectiveness. 

To learn more, visit hopkinschildrens.org/an-artful-diagnosis-of-headache.aspx.

child's illustration of headache
child's illustration of headache
This drawing shows the pounding pain and light sensitivity of a migraine.
child's illustration of headache
A young migraine sufferer illustrates an aversion to light and noise.
child's illustration of headache
A patient draws a vision field partly obscured by spots, a migraine symptom.
child's illustration of headache
An image of a figure lying down points toward a migraine diagnosis.
child's illustration of headache
Several migraine symptoms are depicted here: spots in the visual field, pain, dizziness and nausea.
child's illustration of headache
child's illustration of headache
This artwork depicts the nausea that accompanies a migraine.
child's illustration of headache
Bandlike pressure indicates a tension headache, not a migraine.
child's illustration of headache
child's illustration of headache
Children often depict their migraines as assaults with hammers or other objects.
child's illustration of headache
Children often depict their migraines as assaults with hammers or other objects.
child's illustration of headache
These drawings lack classic migraine features.
child's illustration of headache
These drawings lack classic migraine features.
child's illustration of headache
Pain behind the eyes, as shown here, indicates a migraine.
child's illustration of headache
child's illustration of headache
Pain behind the eyes, as shown here, indicates a migraine.

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