Migraine Types

7 Common and Rare Types of Migraines

Migraines come in many varieties, including with or without aura, hemiplegic migraine, and even migraine without a headache. Understanding which type you have is an important step toward managing this condition.

Migraine without Aura

Known as the “common migraine,” migraine without aura is the most frequent type of migraine. It accounts for 70%-90% of all migraines. It doesn’t include sensory disturbances, such as vision changes or tingling, that occur with some other migraines. Its hallmark is a moderate to severe headache, often though not always on one side of the head. The pain may be throbbing or steady. Additional symptoms may include:

  • Blurred vision
  • Nausea with or without vomiting
  • Sensitivity to light, sounds or smells
  • Fatigue
  • Mood changes
Migraine with Aura

Often called the “classic” migraine, this type of migraine is accompanied by sensory disturbances that occur before or during the headache. These can be visual disturbances, such as flashes of light or blind spots, or something you feel, like tingling in your hand or face or dizziness. You may not get the aura every time. Other symptoms are the same as for migraine without aura.

Migraine with Brainstem Aura (MBA)

This unusual type of migraine used to be known as a basilar-type migraine, but the name was changed as its origins became better understood. MBA is a subtype of migraine with aura. As the name suggests, this type of migraine is believed to originate in the brainstem. Located at the base of the brain, the brainstem connects the brain to the spinal cord. Symptoms of migraine with brainstem aura often include:

  • Vertigo (a type of dizziness)
  • Difficulty speaking (dysarthria)
  • Ringing in the ears (tinnitus)
  • Double vision (diplopia)
Migraine without Headache

If you experience the symptoms associated with migraine with aura but no headache, you may still be diagnosed with migraines. Officially, this is called “Typical Aura without Headache,” but it’s also called a silent (or acephaligic) migraine. Even without the headache, this type of migraine can be very disruptive to your life.

Hemiplegic Migraine

This is a rare and disabling form of migraine that causes temporary weakness or paralysis on one side of the body. The weakness or paralysis may last several days. Sensory symptoms such as vertigo, difficulty seeing, speaking, or swallowing, or prickling or stabbing sensations may occur prior to the headache. This type of migraine can run in a family, in which case it’s called familial hemiplegic migraine (FHM).

Retinal Migraine

One of the rarest forms of migraine, retinal migraine is characterized by visual disturbances or loss of vision in one eye. The visual problems are usually, but not always, accompanied by a headache.

Chronic Migraine

If you have more than 15 headache days per month over three months, and at least eight are migraines, then you meet the definition for chronic migraine. This can be a very disabling condition and can make people unable to work.

Of all of these migraine classifications, the first two are the most common, by far. The others are much rarer. Migraine symptoms can vary from person to person, and you may experience different symptoms during different attacks. Some people even get multiple types of migraines. Keeping a headache diary will help you and your doctor pin down exactly which type (or types) of migraine you have.

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