What Type of Migraine Do I Have?

Maybe you’ve seen flashes of light cross your field of vision and you’ve known a migraine was on its way. Or you’ve headed for bed, waiting for one to ease up.

Almost 30 million Americans get them. They usually feel like pulsing or throbbing on one side of the head. They can also cause nausea, vomiting, and sensitivity to light and sound. And they can be much more severe than other headaches.

But migraines aren’t all alike. Yours might be very different from someone else’s.

With or Without Aura?

The two major categories are migraines with aura (once called “classical migraines”) and migraines without aura (formerly known as “common migraines”).

“Aura” usually includes visual symptoms like seeing lines, shapes, or flashes. You may even lose some of your vision for 10 to 30 minutes. You could also feel tingling or weakness in your arms and legs. They can also affect smell, taste, or touch.

Aura happens to about 1 in 4 people who get migraines. It usually starts before the head pain begins.

There are also several “sub-types” of migraines:

Basilar

This includes visual symptoms and vertigo (a sensation of spinning or dizziness) but doesn’t affect movement or your eyes (for instance, you wouldn’t see flashes of light with this type). It’s sometimes known as “migraine with brainstem aura.”

Chronic

This is a headache that happens 15 or more days a month for more than 3 months. It includes migraine symptoms on at least 8 of those days each month.

Hemiplegic

That word means “paralysis on one side of the body.” The aura that accompanies these headaches causes a temporary weakness on one side of the body and can also lead to a fever, numbness, seizures, or problems with speech.

It’s important to make sure it’s not a stroke, since the symptoms can seem similar. The aura symptoms of a hemiplegic migraine usually disappear within 24 hours.

Menstrual

These usually happen 2 days before through 3 days after the beginning of a woman’s period. Women who get these may also have other kinds of migraines at other times of the month.

Ocular (or Retinal)

These migraines are rare. They involve losing part or all of your vision in one eye for less than an hour, as well as the head pain that comes with migraines.

Vestibular

With this type of migraine, you also get vertigo. The spinning sensation usually lasts between a few minutes and hours.

WebMD Feature Reviewed by Jennifer Robinson, MD on January 13, 2017

Sources

SOURCES:

NIH Medline Plus: “Migraine.”

WomensHealth.Gov: “Migraine Fact Sheet.”

UpToDate: “Pathophysiology, clinical manifestations, and diagnosis of migraine in adults,” “Acute Treatment of Migraine in Adults.”

The Migraine Trust: “Hemiplegic Migraine.”

Mayo Clinic: “Migraine Aura.”

American Migraine Foundation: “Chronic Migraine -- The Basics.”

Bisdorff, A. Therapeutic Advances in Neurological Disorders, May 2011.

International Headache Society: "International Classification of Headache Disorders: ICHD-3 beta."

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