There are several types of migraines, and many of them share some of the same symptoms which can vary in intensity and typically include nausea, vomiting and dizziness, as well as sensitivity to touch, smells, and light. Some unfortunate people will experience numbness and difficulties speaking. One of the most notable characteristics of a migraine is a throbbing, pulsing headache on one side of your head that may last for at least a few hours or even days.1
What kind of migraine do you have?
Migraines of any type can be debilitating and isolating. When they occur frequently, they can interfere with your professional and personal life. However, don’t suffer in silence, treatments exist both to prevent migraines and relieve them during an acute episode. If you’re getting frequent migraines, or experience one of the rare types even once, consider seeing a neurologist or your healthcare provider right away! But what are these different types of migraines?
Migraine with aura (complicated migraine):
A group of sensory, motor and speech symptoms that usually act like warning signals that a migraine headache is on its way. An aura can last from 5 to 60 minutes and the symptoms are reversible, meaning that they can be stopped or healed. You may see bright flashing dots, sparkles, or lights. Blind spots in your vision, numb or tingling skin and speech changes. Ringing in your ears (tinnitus) and temporary vision loss may occur too.2
Migraine without aura (common migraine):
This type of migraine headache strikes without the warning an aura may give you. The symptoms are the same, but that phase doesn’t occur. Migraines without aura are often called “common migraines”. It is the most common type and typical symptoms are a pulsating headache of moderate-to-severe intensity on one side of the head, aggravation by routine physical activity, nausea, and sensitivity to light (photophobia) and sound (phonophobia).3
This is a rare form of a migraine that causes weakness on one side of the body, possibly accompanied by confusion or speech slurring. Sometimes it includes head pain and sometimes it doesn’t. Like the symptoms of migraine with brainstem aura, hemiplegic migraine symptoms can be mistaken for stroke symptoms. One subtype of hemiplegic migraine runs in families, but you can have the condition without a family history.4
Retinal migraine (ocular migraine):
This kind of migraine causes flashes or sparkles of light, possibly combined with partial or total temporary blindness, but only in one eye. This occurs before the headache phase of the migraine starts. The head pain generally commences within an hour of these visual symptoms and can last up to three days.5
This is when a migraine occurs at least 15 days per month. Over time people with episodic migraine may develop more and more headaches for various reasons, including changes in hormones, increased stress, illness, or an increase in the use of pain medications. Having more headaches decreases the threshold for new headaches, and the condition can become chronic and less responsive to medication.6
Migraine with brainstem aura:
You’ll typically experience vertigo, slurred speech, double vision or loss of balance, which occur before the headache. The headache pain may affect the back of your head with symptoms usually occurring suddenly and associated with the inability to speak properly, ringing in the ears and even pins and needles and /or numbness affecting both arms and/or legs.7
This is a rare and severe type of migraine that can last longer than 72 hours. The headache pain and nausea can be extremely bad. Certain medications, or medication withdrawal, can cause you to have this type of migraine. If moderate to severe migraine pain lasts longer than this with less than a solid four-hour pain-free period while awake, it should be considered an emergency and you should get to an ER as soon as possible.8
What Causes Migraines?
It’s difficult to predict who may get a migraine and who may not, but there are risk factors that may make you more vulnerable. Up to 80% of people who get migraine headaches have a first-degree relative with the disease. Migraine headaches happen to women more than men, especially women between the ages of 15 and 55.9
When to See a Doctor About Your Migraine?
Unfortunately, there is no cure for migraines. However, medications can treat the symptoms when they arise, and people can take steps to reduce the frequency and severity of episodes. Sometimes taking over the counter medications, like Cipladon effervescent paracetamol tablets, as soon as symptoms start may keep them from becoming too severe. Seek emergency medical assistance if you are having neurologic symptoms that you’ve never had before, including speaking difficulty, balance problems, vision problems, mental confusion, seizures or numbing/tingling sensations – especially after experiencing a head injury.
Disclaimer: The information on this site should not be used as a substitute for professional medical care or advice. Contact a health care provider if you have questions about your health.
- Conditions, G. Migraine: MedlinePlus Genetics. Medlineplus.gov (2022). [online] Available at <https://medlineplus.gov/genetics/condition/migraine/#description> (18/08/2020).
- The Migraine Trust. The Migraine Trust [online] Available at <https://migrainetrust.org/understand-migraine/types-of-migraine/migraine-with-aura/> (2022).
- The Migraine Trust. The Migraine Trust [online] Available at <https://migrainetrust.org/understand-migraine/types-of-migraine/migraine-without-aura/> (2022).
- The Migraine Trust. The Migraine Trust [online] Available at <https://migrainetrust.org/understand-migraine/types-of-migraine/hemiplegic-migraine/> (2022).
- NHS UK National Health Service [online] Available at <https://www.nhs.uk/conditions/retinal-migraine/> (2022).
- The Migraine Trust. The Migraine Trust [online] Available at <https://migrainetrust.org/understand-migraine/types-of-migraine/chronic-migraine/> (2022).
- The Migraine Trust. The Migraine Trust [online] Available at <https://migrainetrust.org/understand-migraine/types-of-migraine/migraine-with-brainstem-aura/> (2022).
- E Metcalf, MPH WebMD. [online] Available at <https://www.webmd.com/migraines-headaches/status-migrainosus-symptoms-causes-treatment> (12/06/2020).
- Migraine Headaches: Causes, Treatment & Symptoms. Cleveland Clinic [online] Available at <https://my.clevelandclinic.org/health/diseases/5005-migraine-headaches#:~:text=It’s%20difficult%20to%20predict%20who,degree%20relative%20with%20the%20disease> (03/03/2021).