Types of Migraine

Migraine is a very common neurological disorder that does not always manifest itself in the same way. We tell you more about the different types that exist.
Types of Migraine

Written by Maite Córdova Vena, 30 July, 2021

Last update: 30 July, 2021

One of the most common neurological disorders is migraine. It can have a wide variety of clinical manifestations, but the most prevalent is a throbbing headache that can range from moderate to severe. There are several types of migraine, depending on how it affects the body and the accompanying symptoms that appear.

In many types of migraine, there are common symptoms, such as nausea, dizziness and vomiting. However, other manifestations are unique to a particular type. It’s important to learn to distinguish the varieties in order to apply the appropriate treatment.

Migraine without aura

In migraine without aura, or common migraine, the headache is throbbing, usually on one side of the head (unilateral), and appears with nausea, sensitivity to light (photophobia) and sound (phonophobia). Pain tends to be aggravated by routine physical activity.

Migraine with aura

When we use the term migraine with aura, we mean that, before the headache starts, some temporary and reversible symptoms may appear. They’re interpreted as a warning sign of what’s about to happen.

These symptoms are visual disturbances (seeing irregular, bright, or flashing lights, or losing part or all of your vision), tingling sensations in the hands or face, muscle weakness, and difficulties with language. The aura itself usually occurs an hour before the headache and lasts less than 60 minutes, according to experts from the Mayo Clinic

Vomiting before the migraine.
Aura symptoms are warnings that the headache will start soon.

Chronic migraine

According to experts, chronic migraine is the most common type of migraine. It usually causes headaches on 15 or more days of the month, of which at least 8 coincide with the criteria for migraine without aura.

To be diagnosed, this situation must occur at least 3 months in a row, without any clear cause (such as excessive use of some type of medication or any other disorder).

Abdominal migraine

As a study indicates, abdominal migraine is more common in children than in adults. It’s defined by episodes of acute and disabling abdominal pain. However, intervals of weeks or months can pass with almost no sign of it.

Associated signs are headaches, sensitivity to light (photophobia), paleness, anorexia, nausea, and vomiting. In childhood, it represents a diagnostic challenge for professionals.

Silent migraine

Unlike the other types of migraine, in the silent form the characteristic headache doesn’t appear. Many of the other symptoms are present except that one.

It most often affects people over the age of 50 and tends to be confused with a stroke. Vision disturbances (and more specifically those that have to do with color perception) are one of its most common symptoms.

Migraine with brainstem aura

As the neurologists on the My Headache portal explain, migraine with brainstem aura originates in this part of the nervous system, although it isn’t limited to it. It seems to be more common in women and produces visual disturbances, as well as vertigo.

Among other manifestations we find the following:

  • Headaches originating in the neck (occipital headache)
  • Decreased or increased sensitivity (dysesthesia)
  • Difficulty articulating words (dysarthria)
  • Disturbance of movements (ataxia)
  • Noises in the ears that do not have an external sound source (tinnitus)

Familial or sporadic hemiplegic migraine

As the Rare Diseases and Orphan Drug Information Portal (Orphanet) indicates, familial hemiplegic migraine is a rare variety. It’s characterized by causing motor weakness during the aura.

Retinal migraine

Unlike other types of migraine that can affect both eyes, in retinal migraine only one eye is affected by visual disturbances. It’s a rare type of migraine. As for the symptoms, they’re the same as in the common form.

Eye affected by migraine.
The visual disturbances of migraines can be accompanying symptoms or predominant signs.

Migraine state

As stated in a recent update on the topic, migraine status (sometimes also called migrainous status) is a migraine attack that involves a severe and debilitating pain phase that lasts more than 72 hours. Instead, if the attack persists 72 hours or more and isn’t debilitating, it can be categorized as a possible migraine without aura.

Why is it important to distinguish the type of migraine?

If you suffer from severe headaches and other discomforts that are compatible with any of the types of migraine, don’t hesitate to see your doctor for a check-up. Once in consultation, keep in mind that it’s important to explain your symptoms clearly in order for the doctor to be able to reach the correct diagnosis.

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