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Migraines & Headaches Health Center

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Basilar Migraines

When someone has a basilar migraine, there is a disturbance in the brainstem or lower part of the brain. Even before the migraine headache begins, the person may experience an ''aura,'' consisting of a variety of symptoms 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:

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Brian Carter, 41, had his first migraine in his 20s. "I worked from home, and I'd try to keep working but couldn't," he says. "I'd get nauseous. Doing anything felt painful, so I'd lie down and put a pillow over my head." Sound familiar? If you're one of the 36 million Americans who get migraines, you probably know that the awful pain is no ordinary headache. Migraines are defined as moderate to severe pain lasting 4 to 72 hours, usually on one side of the head. The pain gets worse with exercise,...

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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 nitrites 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.

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