Skip to content
My WebMD Sign In, Sign Up

Migraines & Headaches Health Center

Font Size

Basilar Migraines

When someone has a basilar migraine, there is a disturbance at the brainstem or base of the brain. Even before the migraine headache begins, the person may experience an ''aura,'' a cluster of sensations such as dizziness, double vision, and lack of coordination. An aura is a neurological phenomenon that occurs about 10 minutes to 45 minutes before the headache starts.

Basilar migraines are known by several different names:

Recommended Related to Migraines/Headaches

Understanding Migraine -- the Basics

Migraines are a type of headache that cause severe, throbbing pain, often accompanied by nausea, vomiting, and sensitivity to light (photophobia) or sound (phonophobia). Migraine headaches generally last between four and 72 hours. Many people experience certain symptoms prior to the onset of the head pain. Symptoms that precede and herald an upcoming headache are referred to as an "aura," and usually last under an hour. Symptoms of an aura include: Changes in your vision (even brief blindness) ...

Read the Understanding Migraine -- the Basics article > >

  • Basilar-type migraine
  • Bickerstaff syndrome
  • Brainstem migraine
  • Vertebrobasilar migraine
  • Basilar artery migraine

A basilar migraine can last anywhere from four to 72 hours. It is usually aggravated by performing daily activities. The attacks can be debilitating, leaving a person feeling drained for up to 24 hours after the attack.

Who's at Risk for Basilar Migraines?

Basilar migraines can affect people of all ages. Generally, though, they start in childhood or the teen years. Women are slightly more likely to have basilar migraines than men.

What Causes Basilar Migraines?

Basilar migraine triggers may include the following:

  • Consumption of alcohol
  • Stress
  • Sleep deprivation
  • Certain medications
  • Hunger
  • Female hormonal changes
  • Bright lights
  • Caffeine
  • Consumption of nitrates found in food
  • Physical overexertion
  • Environmental factors such as the weather or altitude


What Are the Signs and Symptoms of Basilar Migraines?

Basilar migraines are often described as starting on one side of the head and then gradually spreading and intensifying. With basilar migraines, you may have any of the following:

  • Nausea
  • Vomiting
  • Sensitivity to light and sound
  • Cold hands or feet

Although symptoms of basilar migraines may differ, the following can be typical symptoms:

  • Dizziness
  • Double vision or graying of vision
  • Slurred speech
  • Temporary blindness
  • Loss of balance
  • Confusion
  • Hearing impairments
  • Body tingling
  • Loss of consciousness
  • Difficulty talking

Aura symptoms may last between five minutes and one hour. The headache follows the auras, typically occurring during the time the person is still experiencing the aura or immediately thereafter. People with a basilar migraine generally feel an intense throbbing or pulsating pain on one or both sides of the head. Sometimes, the pain is also felt at the back of the head. Severe vomiting is common.

How Are Basilar Migraines Diagnosed?

A diagnosis of basilar migraine is made after a person has had at least two attacks consisting of at least two auras. Symptoms of basilar migraines can often be confused with symptoms of other more serious conditions. A medical diagnosis is important to rule out other illnesses or health conditions. These other more serious conditions include:

  • Seizure disorders
  • Stroke
  • Vertebrobasilar disease
  • Tumor
  • Meningitis
  • Brainstem arteriovenous malformation
  • Brain lesions

Basilar migraine can also be confused with hemiplegic migraine. Symptoms of the two are generally the same except that motor weakness occurs with hemiplegic migraine.

MRIs, CT scans, and other neurodiagnostic tests are often needed to eliminate the possibility of other disorders.

Because of the seriousness of the other disorders, it is very important to have a specialized doctor perform a thorough exam. Ideally, you should seek the help of a migraine specialist.

WebMD Medical Reference

Today on WebMD

woman receiving acupuncture
14 alternative methods for migraine relief.
woman with migraine
Get the truth about migraines.
headache in the bedroom
Keep headaches from ruining your sex life.
desert heat
12 surprising headache triggers.
woman with migraine
drinking coffee
Migraines Headaches Basics
acupuncture needles in woman's back
young woman with migraine
spraying perfume
man with a headache
headache in the bedroom

Special Sections