8 different types of migraines and how to know which is causing your symptoms

8 different types of migraines and how to know which is causing your symptoms
Migraines can come with symptoms like head pain, nausea, or vision loss.Westend61/Getty Images
  • Common migraine types include retinal migraines, menstrual migraines, or vestibular migraines.
  • You can also have a migraine with or without aura, which is when there are visual symptoms like flashing lights or brightly colored lines.
  • Migraines can also be chronic, meaning you have headaches at least 15 days per month, and migraines make up 8 or more of them.

A migraine is a neurological condition that can be much worse than a bad headache. There are many different types of migraines and each can cause different symptoms.

You might experience dizziness, changes in your vision, weak muscles, or stomach ache, depending on which type of migraine you have. Some types of migraines may not even cause a headache.

Here's what you need to know about the different types of migraines and how you can tell which type you have.
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Migraine with aura

Along with the usual migraine headache, some people with migraines experience an "aura phase" before or during their migraine. When you have an aura, you may see flashing lights or bright colored lines across your visual field, or you may feel sensations like tingling in your body.

Experts don't know exactly what causes migraine aura, but aura likely happens when cells on the surface of your brain become activated in an abnormal way.

When this happens, it triggers changes in blood flow to the areas of your brain that control vision and touch, says Charles Flippen, MD, a professor of neurology at the University of California, Los Angeles.
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Migraine without aura

If you have migraines without aura, you have the usual migraine symptoms like severe headache pain without any of the visual symptoms that come with aura. Migraines can also cause nausea, vomiting, and sensitivity to light and sound.

Experts still don't fully understand what causes migraines, but we know that migraines are partly caused by your genetics, Flippen says. Migraines may also be linked to changes in your brain stem, a part of your brain connected to the trigeminal nerve, which acts as a major pain pathway in your body.
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Hemiplegic migraine

A hemiplegic migraine is a rare type of migraine with aura that causes weakness in your muscles before or during a migraine headache.

"The weakness may involve the arm, leg and face on one side of the body," Flippen says. Hemiplegic migraines only affect one side of your body at a time, but the symptoms may switch sides during a migraine attack.

Hemiplegic migraine sufferers may also feel confused, have slurred speech, or have a hard time producing words during migraines, Flippen says.
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Hemiplegic migraines tend to run in families and experts have linked them to variations in certain genes. More research is needed, but some scientists believe that hemiplegic migraines may be caused by overactive nerve cells in your brain.

Chronic migraine

People with chronic migraines have headaches at least 15 days out of each month, and at least eight of these headaches are migraines. Chronic migraine tends to develop over time, with the number of headaches steadily increasing.

Chronic migraines can develop when you overuse medications used to treat migraines. This can include prescription drugs like barbiturates or opioids as well as over-the-counter non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs like ibuprofen.
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Retinal migraine

A retinal migraine is a type of migraine that causes changes in your vision before or during a migraine headache. Unlike a migraine aura, a retinal migraine causes symptoms in only one of your eyes ­- you may see twinkling lights in your sight or you may partially lose vision. In severe cases, this vision loss can become permanent.

A retinal migraine happens when you have disturbances of the nerves in your retina, the tissue at the back of your eye that senses light and processes visual information.

Vestibular migraine

A vestibular migraine is another type of migraine with aura where you have symptoms of dizziness and vertigo.
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"Patients describe feeling like they are moving or that their environment is moving," Flippen says. These sensations can also cause nausea and vomiting.

A vestibular migraine happens when the nerves that control the balance mechanism of your brain malfunction, making you feel off-balance or like you're moving, Flippen says.

Menstrual migraine

Menstrual migraines happen during the span of two days before to three days after your menstrual cycle starts. Menstrual migraines may feel similar to regular migraines, but they often last longer and cause more severe nausea.
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Menstrual migraines are caused by a decrease in your estrogen and progesterone hormones around the start of your menstrual period.

Abdominal migraine

Abdominal migraines usually affect children under the age of 12 and can start in children as young as three, Flippen says, adding that children usually grow out of it.

"Patients usually describe feeling nauseous, some abdominal pain and possible vomiting," Flippen says. Unlike other migraines, abdominal migraines usually don't cause any headache pain.
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Abdominal migraines are considered migraines because they're connected to the same genes that cause migraines - children with abdominal migraine often have family members with migraine headaches and they may develop migraines as they get older.

Experts don't know exactly what causes abdominal migraines, but they may be linked to problems with the nerves that connect your brain and your gut.

Insider's takeaway

There are many types of migraines that can cause a variety of different symptoms. If you have frequent migraine attacks, go see your doctor to find out what type of migraine you have and the best way to ease your symptoms.
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There are many ways to treat migraine and "the vast majority of patients should be able gain control of their condition," Flippen says.
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