If you experience migraine headaches, you know how hard they can be. Their symptoms can force you to miss work or school and skip activities you enjoy. But there are ways you can manage them more effectively.
What is a migraine?
A migraine is a neurological (nervous system) disorder where you have moderate to severe headaches caused by changes in the blood vessels in your head. While migraines usually aren’t dangerous, they can greatly impact your daily life.
Migraines aren’t the same as typical headaches. The pain is often stronger, and you’re likely to have other symptoms in addition to pain. Experts don’t know exactly what causes migraines, but both genetic and environmental factors may play a role.
About 12% of Americans get migraines, and women get them three times as often as men. Risk factors for migraine include having depression, anxiety, obesity, epilepsy, sleep disorders or bipolar disorder.
The different types of migraines
Not all migraines are the same—different types have different features. Here are some of the most common types:
- Migraine without aura (previously called “common migraine”): This is the most common type of migraine. With it, you’ll have moderate to severe pain, often on one side of the head, as well as symptoms such as nausea, vomiting and sensitivity to light and sound.
- Migraine with aura (previously called “classic migraine”): With this type of migraine, you’ll experience an aura, which you notice before or at the same time as the headache. Auras can be visual disturbances, such as flashing lights or blind spots, or they can be sensory (sensitivity to your environment), motor (muscular) or speech disturbances.
- Chronic migraine: Migraines are considered chronic when you have a headache on 15 or more days per month for at least three months, and at least eight of those days each month are migraines. Chronic migraine is a more continual and long-lasting form of migraine.
- Hemiplegic migraine: With this rare type of migraine, you experience temporary paralysis or weakness on one side of the body, along with other migraine symptoms. You could also notice visual disturbances, difficulty speaking or sensory changes.
- Vestibular migraine: This is a migraine where you also experience dizziness, balance problems, vertigo or a spinning or whirling sensation, along with symptoms like unsteadiness, a lack of coordination and visual disturbances.
- Silent migraine (acephalgic migraine): With this type of migraine, you can have an aura and possibly other symptoms, but no pain.
- Abdominal migraine: This form of migraine is most common in children under 10 years old. They can have nausea, vomiting and severe stomach pain, and they may develop more typical migraines when they get older.
- Menstrual migraine: These migraines coincide with hormonal changes and can occur before, during or after a woman’s monthly period.
- Retinal migraine: This type of migraine includes temporary vision loss or blindness in one eye along with headache. It’s also called ocular migraine or ophthalmic migraine.
- Brainstem aura migraine: This type of migraine includes dizziness, confusion, balance problems, trouble talking, ear ringing, nausea and vomiting. The pain is usually in the back of your head.
- Status migrainosus: A migraine lasting more than 72 hours.
Chronic tension-type headache: This is a different type of headache disorder that shares some similarities with migraines. With these headaches, you’ll have persistent, headache pain half or more of all days without the specific features of migraines.
Migraine signs, symptoms and triggers
A severe headache is only one of many signs of a migraine. Everyone’s migraine symptoms and triggers can be different. Also, the intensity, frequency and length of a migraine can change from person to person.
Learn more about the signs, causes and triggers of migraines.
Migraine diagnosis and treatment
Your health care provider can help you discover if your symptoms come from migraines. They can also guide you to a neurologist (brain and nervous system specialist) to find the best treatment for your condition.
Learn more about the diagnosis, testing and treatment of migraines.