Types of Migraine Headaches

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 38 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 migraine with aura (once called “classical migraines”) and migraine 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 in your arms and legs. They can also affect smell, taste, touch, or speech.

Aura happens to about 1 in 4 people who get migraine headaches. It usually starts before the head pain begins and last up to an hour.

There are also several migraine “sub-types.”

Brainstem aura

This includes visual, sensory and/or speech or language symptoms and at least 2 of the following additional symptoms: slurred speech,vertigo (a sensation of spinning or dizziness), tinnitus ( ringing in the ears), double vision, unsteadiness, and a severe sensitivity to sound.


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.


That word means “paralysis on one side of the body.” The aura that accompanies these headaches causes a temporary (less than 72 hours) weakness on one side of the body.  There are 2 types of hemiplegic migraine; familial and sporadic.  In the sporadic form, no other family members are affected.

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.



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 migraine headaches at other times of the month, but the migraine around the menstruation is usually without aura.

Ocular (or Retinal)

This form of migraine is very rare.They involve seeing colors, flashing lights or other visual disturbances including the loss of some or all of the vision  in one eye only.  The visual loss should last for less than an hour, and be followed by a typical migraine headache.


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

WebMD Medical Reference Reviewed by Jennifer Robinson, MD on August 18, 2019



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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