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Migraines With Vision Problems and Vertigo

Medically Reviewed by Melinda Ratini, DO, MS on September 10, 2020

Many people who get migraines also have problems with their vision as well as dizziness or vertigo along with the headaches.

These effects can be scary and troubling. But they usually get much better or even disappear with treatment. Lifestyle changes, medications, and complementary therapies can help migraines and their related symptoms.

Vision Problems

About 1 in 4 people who suffer from migraines will get an aura, which often includes visual symptoms:

  • Blind spots
  • Flashing lights
  • Spots of light
  • Wavy lines in your field of vision

Vision problems usually start 20 minutes to an hour before the headache. Even if you don't get an aura, the headache itself may cause vision trouble.

A retinal migraine causes a variety of visual symptoms, possibly blindness in one eye, before and during the headache. Fortunately, these problems go away with it, but permanent vision loss may be a complication of this type of migraine.

Other serious conditions, such as optic nerve problems or a tear in the arteries that supply blood to your brain, can also cause one-sided blindness. See your doctor as soon as you can to rule them out.

Vertigo and Dizziness

Migraines are one of the leading causes of dizziness. About one-fourth of the people in the U.S. who have migraines get this uncomfortable symptom. Dizziness and vertigo are more common when you have migraines with aura.

You may feel lightheaded or unsteady -- vertigo makes it seem like the room is spinning. It may happen before or at the same time as the headache. Sometimes you won't get a headache at all. The symptoms may last anywhere from a few seconds to days.

The sensations are actually related to your inner ear. In fact, some people who have vertigo with their migraines also have other ear and hearing problems such as sound sensitivity and ringing in their ears.

A basilar-type migraine, what doctors call migraine with brainstem aura (MBA), is the most likely to cause vertigo. It's also likely to cause ringing in the ears, hearing loss, and coordination difficulties.

Some people who have migraine-related vertigo don't get this symptom until several years after their headache episodes begin.

Doctors have a hard time diagnosing vertigo caused by migraine. That's because people who have these headaches often have other conditions that may cause dizziness, too, including anxiety, and low blood pressure related to their body position.

Treatment for Migraines and Related Symptoms

Many people can lessen or get rid of their headache and its problems by changing their daily habits:

No surefire medication will work for everyone who gets migraines. But you have options that, alone or in combination, can relieve the headaches and associated vision issues, dizziness, and vertigo.

Some prescriptions block migraines before they start.

Your doctor may prescribe drugs called triptans, including rizatriptan (Mazalt) and sumatriptan (Alsuma) to stop migraines before they become full-blown.

A new class called ditans which includes lasmiditan (Reyvow) may be a safer option if you are older or have certain heart problems. Gepants such as rimegepant (Nurtec) and ubrogepant (Ubrelvy) block CGRP to help stop migraines in their tracks.

There are a couple of devices designed to short-circuit a migraine by turning on your brain in a particular way. A device called SpringTMS uses a technique called a transcranial magnetic stimulation (TMS). Place it on the back of your head for about a minute for release of a pulse of magnetic energy. Similarly, Cefaly uses transcutaneous supraorbital nerve stimulation and is worn as a headband on the forehead and turned on daily for 20 minutes to prevent migraine from developing. There is also a noninvasive vagus nerve stimulator called gammaCore. When placed over the vagus nerve in the neck, it releases a mild electrical stimulation to the nerve's fibers to relieve pain. These three devices can be used to both prevent and treat migraines. A remote electrical neuromodulation device called Nerivio is also available for treatment of migraines only.

You'll need a prescription for any of these gadgets, too.

Both prescribed and over-the-counter pain relievers and anti-inflammatory drugs, such as acetaminophen, ibuprofen, and naproxen, may give you relief from the migraine's effects.

Biofeedback and acupuncture can help you manage your stress as well as headache pain and other sensations.

WebMD Medical Reference

Sources

SOURCES:

Vestibular Disorders Association: "Vestibular migraine."

Michigan Headache & Neurological Institute.

American Hearing Research Foundation: "Migraine Associated Vertigo."

National Headache Foundation: "Migraine."

International Headache Society: "Retinal migraine."

WebMD Medical Reference: "Types of migraine and headache medications."

American Academy of Family Physicians, familydoctor.org: "Migraine headaches: Ways to deal with the pain."

News release, FDA.

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