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The Different Types of Migraine

13th March 2019

Although the two are commonly confused, there is a big difference between a migraine and a headache. General headaches are very common and are often brought on as a secondary symptom to another health problem; viruses (including the flu) often carry headaches as a side effect, as do a lot of chronic conditions. Headaches can also occur as a premenstrual symptom, as well as a side effect of jet lag, dehydration or insomnia.

Migraines are different, however, in that they are not a symptom or side effect but a condition of their own. People who suffer from migraines often find that they get them regularly, at intervals anywhere from every day to once every few months. However, it’s very rare that someone will only have a migraine once in their lifetime, as people seem to either be susceptible to getting them or not. If you thought you’d had a migraine but never experience a repeat then it’s likely you just had a very severe headache.

And while migraines are different from headaches, they can also be split into a variety of different migraine types. Some sufferers experience a variety of the different types, while some people’s migraines will very much follow a pattern.

Migraine with aura

Migraine with aura is what is known as the “classic” migraine, with pretty much all the possible symptoms involved. People who have migraine with aura will experience a variety of visual disturbances either on the lead-up to, or during, the headache. These visual disturbances include blurred vision, spotting on the eyes, flashing lights or blind spots.

They can act as a kind of warning sign that a migraine is about to commence, so this kind of migraine can be easier to treat. Taking painkillers before the headache has had time to develop means that you can often prevent it, rather than suffering while waiting for the medication to kick in if taken when the headache already exists.

Migraine with aura is then followed up with the classic painful headache, which can be accompanied by a sensitivity to light or sound, nausea and vomiting. The visual disturbances (or the “aura”) usually give way to the other symptoms, with the migraine following a sort of linear pattern. However, some people do find that their visual problems persist even once the headache has begun.

Migraine without aura

Migraine without aura is the most common kind of migraine and carries all the same symptoms as a migraine with aura, but without the visual aspects. This means that you often receive no warning signs and are instead only aware of the migraine once the painful headache sets in.

The headache associated with a migraine is usually a very sharp ache, felt as a throbbing pain that seems to take over your whole head. It can be extremely debilitating and can often have sufferers staying home from work, school or other daily activities.

Although people who get a migraine without aura don’t have any visual signs (like blurred vision or blind spots), they can often still experience a heightened sensitivity to light (and sound) during their headache. The headache can also still be accompanied by nausea and vomiting.

Silent migraine

The rarest kind of them all, a silent migraine gets its name because of its lack of the usual headache. Sufferers can often struggle to realise that what they have is a migraine, because of the fact that migraines are so closely associated with headaches.

In the instance of a silent migraine, although you don’t get the headache, you can still experience the “aura”; spotting behind the eyes, blurred vision, blind spots and flashing lights. Once the visual disturbances pass, instead of the headache you can often be met with a feeling of nausea and often actual vomiting too.

The cause

The actual cause of migraines, unfortunately, remains unclear. Although we know that someone who gets them is likely to get them again and again, it’s not been deduced as to why exactly certain people develop them in the first place and others don’t.

Some research suggests that it’s linked to genes and your DNA, because people who get migraines often have parents, siblings or children who also get them. However, there has been no specific gene identified as of yet.

Another theory is that it could be something to do with your hormones. A lot of women who experience migraines tend to notice that they happen in line with their menstrual cycle, suggesting that hormones could play a role.

Although the cause is not fully understood, treatment luckily is. There are a number of effective medications that you can use when a migraine strikes, to allow you to carry on with your day; whichever type it is that you have.