Types of migraine
It’s normal to get a headache from time to time, but if you’re regularly having pain in the head, and it’s preventing you from going about your day as normal, you may be experiencing migraines.
What is a migraine?
A migraine isn’t just like a normal headache. It’s much more painful, and is usually felt on just one side. It’s also commonly accompanied by other symptoms including nausea, vomiting, and sensitivity to light and sound.
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.
Another 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 can really help you manage your condition.
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.
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 the symptoms described above: 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 described above, but don’t have a headache afterwards. This is known as migraine aura without headache, or a “silent” migraine.
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 migrainous”.
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.
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. 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. 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 migraine vestibular migraine.
Other types of migraine
- Migraine with brainstem aura
- Vestibular migraine
- Abdominal migraine
There are also many different conditions causing head pain that aren’t classed as migrainous e.g. cluster headaches.
Treatment options 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 prescription painkillers, or a medication like triptans or some medications like Vydura (rimegepant) can treat and prevent migraines. 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.
Get safe treatment through LloydsPharmacy Online Doctor
Our in-house doctors can prescribe triptans for migraines through our secure online migraine clinic. Fill out a short confidential consultation so that one of our doctors can check to make sure you’re suitable for treatment.