Types of migraine
It’s normal to get a headache from time to time. If however, you’re regularly having pain in your head that may be preventing you from going about your day, you may be experiencing migraines. You could find your mental health and general well being are being impacted as well.
In this article we discuss the different types of migraine, their triggers and treatments.
What is a migraine?
A migraine isn’t like a normal headache. It’s commonly accompanied by other symptoms including nausea, vomiting, and sensitivity to light and sound. If your migraine is painful, the pain is usually felt on just one side.
When you’re having a migraine you’ll probably find that you can’t carry on with normal activities, and you might have to lie down in a darkened room. The symptoms will normally continue for several hours, but might last for as long as three days, after which you may feel extremely tired.
What types of migraine are there?
There are many different types of migraine, but most have the characteristic symptom of intense, throbbing pain, usually felt on one side of the head. The different types of migraine include:
Migraine without aura
The most common type of migraine is migraine without aura – it’s thought that 70-90% of people with the condition have this type.
This type of migraine causes these symptoms: a throbbing pain, usually on one side of the head, which affects your ability to do normal activities. The pain will worsen if you exercise, even gently e.g. by walking or going up the stairs. You may be sensitive to light and sound, and you might feel sick and throw up, or have diarrhoea.
The symptoms will usually last between four and 72 hours.
Migraine with aura
Some people who get migraines have the kinds of symptoms described above, as well as some additional neurological ones. These neurological symptoms are known collectively as “migraine aura” – they’re often described as warning signals, as they tend to occur before the headache starts.
Normally, migraine aura causes visual disturbances like blind spots, coloured spots, sparkles, flashing lights, tunnel vision, and zigzag lines. Aura can also cause temporary blindness. Other aura symptoms include numbness, tingling, pins and needles, and weakness on one side of the body, as well as dizziness and vertigo.
Aura symptoms develop within about five minutes and usually last up to one hour. Normally a headache will follow aura symptoms, but for some people the pain may only be mild.
Migraine aura without headache
Some people experience the migraine aura symptoms, but don’t have a headache afterwards. This is known as migraine aura without headache, or a “silent” migraine.
Symptoms include visual disturbances such as blind or coloured spots, sparks, flashes of light, tunnel vision and zigzag lines. Aura can cause temporary blindness too.
You may experience other symptoms such as:
- Tingling, pins and needles
- Weakness on one side of the body
Migraine with brainstem aura
Also known as a basilar-type migraine, migraine with brainstem aura occurs in 1 in 10 people who experience migraine with visual aura.
Symptoms tend to develop gradually, these can happen before or at the same time as a migraine headache. Symptoms include:
- Slurred speech
- Double vision
- Unsteadiness when moving
- Pins and needles or numbness
- Flashing lights and visual changes
Chronic migraine is a condition where you’re regularly experiencing migraine headaches.
According to The Migraine Trust, the exact definition of chronic migraine is: “more than fifteen headache days per month over a three month period of which more than eight are migraine symptoms”.
If you have chronic migraines your symptoms may include; frequent headaches, sensitivity to light and sound, nausea and vomiting, fatigue and drowsiness and visual disturbances.
This type of migraine is related to falling levels of oestrogen in the run-up to your period. If you get menstrual migraines, you’ll probably experience symptoms in the two days before you start menstruating, or in the first three days of your period. Find out what else you can experience around your period here.
Known as hormonal headaches, symptoms include a throbbing pain, usually on one side of the head. You may be sensitive to light and sound, and you might feel sick and throw up, or have diarrhoea.
If you think you might have this condition, try keeping a diary to keep track of when symptoms occur in your cycle. This will help your GP prescribe effective treatment and work out if your symptoms are caused by any other triggers.
A hemiplegic migraine is a type of migraine that causes weakness down one side of the body, and sometimes numbness and pins and needles too.
As well as affecting one side of the body, the weakness might affect the face, arm and leg. Normally this type of migraine also involves head pain, which may come before or after the weakness.
Symptoms can last between one hour and several days, although most of the time the weakness will have gone away within 24 hours. Find out more about hemiplegic migraines.
Ocular or retinal migraine
An ocular or retinal migraine is a distinctive type of migraine that causes visual problems in just one eye, rather than both.
As well as visual problems in one eye, you might experience partial or total vision loss in the affected eye for about 10 or 20 minutes. You might also have a headache.
This condition can cause symptoms every few months. Usually the same eye is affected each time. Find out more by reading this article: Ocular migraines.
A vestibular migraine is a type of migraine where people experience vertigo, dizziness and unsteadiness alongside other migraine symptoms. Although it is possible for people to experience these types of migraines without the headache.
Symptoms of a vestibular migraine can include:
- Loss of balance and unsteadiness
- Difficulty concentrating
- Sensitivity to movement, light and sound
You might find that your symptoms including an attack of vertigo can last from minutes to hours and days.
Abdominal migraines are more common in children, although adults can experience them. It’s not clear why these migraines happen, but treatment is similar to other types of migraines.
The symptoms of abdominal migraines include moderate to severe stomach pain that lasts from two hours to three days. These attacks are regular and can be accompanied by nausea and vomiting, but no headache.
There are also many different conditions causing head pain that aren’t classed as migrainous e.g. cluster headaches.
Treatment for migraine
You should always talk to your GP if you’re having frequent and/or severe migraines, as they can help you find an effective treatment and manage your symptoms. The exact type of treatment you’ll need will depend upon a few factors, including the type of migraine you have and the severity of your symptoms.
Over-the-counter painkillers like ibuprofen and paracetamol can be helpful for moderate symptoms. For more severe symptoms, your GP might recommend:
Vydura can treat and prevent migraines, it’s a wafer that’s placed under the tongue. Find out if Vydura is a suitable medicine for you here.
An effective migraine treatment, Sumatriptan is a tablet designed to be taken when the headache phase of your migraine begins. Sumatriptan is available online via an online consultation, check it’s suitable for you today.
Rizatriptan, an effective migraine treatment, relieves the symptoms of migraine. It can be taken alongside over-the-counter pain relief and anti-sickness medicines. See if Rizatriptan is the right treatment for you here.
Sometimes, a combination of medicines will be needed. If these kinds of treatments don’t work for you, your GP might refer you to a specialist for a treatment like transcranial magnetic stimulation. This is where an electrical device is strapped to your head and delivers small magnetic pulses through your skin.
While there are many types of migraines, the key feature of a migraine is that it’s usually triggered by something like stress, tiredness, hormonal changes, or something in your environment like bright lights or loud noises.
Figuring out your migraine triggers such as stress management can really help you manage your condition. You could use a headache diary to note down your symptoms throughout the month: Download your free copy.