Migraine Types

If you’re new to migraine or just starting your research, you may be overwhelmed by the lingo used to describe different types of migraine. 

Knowing which type (or types) of migraine you have can help you better describe it to your doctors, allow you to find more relevant information to your specific condition, and let you connect with others going through the same thing!

Below are the names and descriptions of the common (and not so common) types of migraine. You can use this list to help guide you in the right direction and as a talking point for your next doctor’s appointment.

Migraine Without Aura

Formerly called “Common Migraine”, Migraine Without Aura is the most commonly seen type. Many people experience pain on just one side of their head, leading many doctors to refuse to diagnose a bilateral (or both-sided) migraine. Rest assured, whether the pain happens on one or both sides of your head, it’s still migraine!

In addition to head pain, common symptoms include: 

  • nausea
  • vomiting
  • nasal congestion
  • moodiness
  • sensitivity to light, sound, and/or smell
  • difficulty concentrating
  • yawning
  • muscle fatigue, tension, or tightness

Migraine episodes typically last between 4 hours and 3 days and are usually followed by a postdrome, or “hangover”.

You could have migraine without aura if your main symptom is throbbing, pulsating, or pounding head pain.

Migraine With Aura

About a quarter of people with migraine experience aura, or “sensory disturbances”. Along with the typical symptoms of migraine, people with aura may see: 

  • zigzags
  • flashes of lights
  • blurry spots 
  • blind spots
  • TV static
  • shimmers

Less commonly, aura can include other neurological symptoms like ringing in the ears, dizziness, double vision, or trouble speaking – these can be signs of what’s called a brain stem aura.

Aura usually happens shortly before or during a migraine episode, and can last anywhere from 10 to 60 minutes prior to your main symptoms. 

You could have migraine with aura if you’ve ever noticed something strange in your field of vision prior to a migraine episode.

Silent Migraine

Also referred to as “Aura without headache”, silent migraine can be particularly unnerving to experience. Someone with silent migraine will experience aura and other symptoms like nausea and vomiting, but in the absence of any head pain.

People with Silent Migraine are likely to experience other more traditional types of migraine, like Migraine with Aura. You are also more likely to experience silent migraine as you age.

You could have silent migraine if you have strange episodes of visual disturbances, nausea, dizziness, etc. but without the head pain.

Vestibular Migraine

Vestibular Migraine occurs when a person has significant vestibular symptoms like:

  • dizziness
  • problems with balance
  • motion sickness
  • a rocking or swaying sensation
  • feeling the room is spinning

These symptoms can occur with or without head pain and other common migraine symptoms.  

What makes vestibular migraine different from other vertiginous (aka makes you feel dizzy) conditions is that vestibular migraine symptoms appear to be coming from the brain, rather than the inner ear.

Vestibular migraine is sometimes misdiagnosed as Meniere’s Disease, a vestibular condition of the inner ear. It is possible, however, for someone to suffer from both conditions, making diagnosis even more complicated.

You could have vestibular migraine if you ever feel like you’re on a boat and get motion sickness walking down the stairs.

Hemiplegic Migraine

People with this type of migraine will experience weakness or numbness on one side of their body that may or may not be accompanied by aura. You will typically have other more common symptoms of migraine such as head pain or nausea. While this type of headache is rare, it can be particularly unnerving and even lead you to think you’re having a stroke.

Hemiplegic migraine typically begins in childhood and can run in families. Episodes can last from hours to weeks, but once the episode resolves symptoms typically go away completely.  

You could have hemiplegic migraine if you’ve had stroke-like episodes and have a family history of hemiplegic migraine. 

***If you ever think you’re having a stroke, seizure, or other serious medical event, please seek medical attention immediately!!

Retinal Migraine

A subtype of migraine with aura, retinal migraine occurs when aura symptoms happen in one eye only. People with retinal migraine may even lose sight completely in the affected eye during an episode.

It is particularly important to see a doctor if you experience Retinal Migraine, as vision loss experienced during episodes may become permanent.  

You could have retinal migraine if you have aura, but in one eye only.

Abdominal Migraine

Commonly experienced by children, abdominal migraine is a subtype of migraine that typically presents itself between the ages of 5 and 9. While adults can experience abdominal migraine too, it is much more likely to occur in childhood.

Symptoms of abdominal migraine include

  • dull abdominal pain
  • nausea
  • vomiting
  • loss of appetite

The majority of children with Abdominal Migraine go on to develop another form of migraine as they get older. 

You could have abdominal migraine if you have episodes of stomach pain, nausea, and vomiting with no apparent cause.

Menstrual / Hormonal Migraine

Menstrual migraine isn’t an official type of migraine, but rather migraine caused by a specific trigger. Menstrual or hormonal migraine is seen in women during specific times of their period, typically in the days leading up to menstruation. 

This type of migraine is triggered by both normal and abnormal changes in hormones and often occurs as part of migraine with or without aura. Women with menstrual migraine may notice that their migraine disappears during pregnancy (or in some unfortunate instances, becomes worse).

You may have menstrual migraine if you notice a clear pattern between your migraine episodes and your period. 

Frequency – Episodic vs. Chronic

Most people with migraine are episodic, meaning they experience less than 15 migraine episodes per month. If you experience 15 or more, your migraine is considered chronic.

You may also hear the terms intractable or refractory migraine, which is used for someone whose migraine symptoms never really go away. Intractable migraine is particularly hard to treat and may be a sign of medication overuse.

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