Migraine symptoms and tips
Migraines — even thinking about them may wipe you out. The pounding headache, the nausea, the light sensitivity. A migraine may last hours or even days.1 These strong headaches can manifest in a number of ways. The first step in understanding your pounding, unrelenting headache is knowing which kind of migraine you have.
Get to know the 10 common types of migraines
It may be hard to believe that number, but there are actually 10 types of migraines. In fact, there are even more subtypes of migraines that are named based on unique symptoms. Many types of migraines are also known by several different names.
Let’s start with the two main categories of migraines: with and without aura. Aura is a term that describes a sensory change that happens before a migraine, like with your hearing, vision or speech.2, 3, 4
- Common migraine: A severe headache that happens without a severe visual sensory change. Symptoms may include things like, dizziness, nausea, ringing ears, blurry vision, or light sensitivity.2, 3, 4
- Classic migraine: A reoccurring headache that happens after or along with a sensory change, like seeing flashing lights, noticing blind spots, or feeling tingling in your hands and face.2, 3, 4
- Migraine with brainstem aura: A migraine with aura symptoms stemming from the base of the brain, like difficulty speaking, ringing ears, double vision, or vertigo.2, 3, 4
- Hemiplegic migraine: A rare type of migraine with temporary muscle weakness on one side of your body.2, 3, 4
- Retinal (ocular) migraine: A rare type of migraine with vision changes in one eye, like seeing colors or flashing lights.2, 3, 4
- Ophthalmoplegic migraine: A rare type of migraine with pain or weakness around one or both eyes that may cause a droopy eyelid or double vision.2, 3, 4
- Chronic migraine: A migraine that happens 15 days or more each month for more than 3 months.2, 3, 4
- Silent migraine: A migraine without head pain. (Say what?) Aura is usually the main sign, but you may have other traditional migraine symptoms. It might only last 20 to 30 minutes.2, 3, 4
- Menstrual migraine: A migraine that coincides with a woman’s menstrual cycle, usually without aura.2, 3, 4
- Vestibular migraine: A migraine with vertigo that lasts minutes or hours.2, 3, 4
- Abdominal migraine: Like a headache in your gut, this migraine may include stomach pain, nausea, loss of appetite, or vomiting. (It’s more common in kids.)2, 3, 4
- Status migrainosus: A migraine lasting longer than 3 days. It may be caused by taking medicines or withdrawing from them.2, 3, 4
If you experience debilitating head pain, loss of vision, or symptoms that may be a warning sign of a more serious condition (like a stroke), get emergency care right away.
How to help prevent migraines
Migraine treatment is all about stopping symptoms and preventing future migraines.
Track your migraines
Keeping a headache diary might help you understand triggers that set off your migraines. For example, things like food (red wine, aged cheese, cured meats), bright lights and strong smells might be triggers. As you keep track, you may see a pattern. You can use your headache diary to help explain your migraines to your doctor. And it can help you identify possible causes, so you can avoid those triggers.
It’s important to understand what type of migraine you may have, so by tracking you can be more specific in telling your doctor about your migraine symptoms. They may recommend a home remedy, medicine, or both.5, 6
2 types of migraine medicines, according to official sources
- Pain-relieving medicines: Over-the-counter or prescription medicines that are taken during a migraine to stop symptoms.5
- Preventive medicines: Taken regularly (often daily) to reduce the severity or frequency of migraines.5
Home remedies for migraines
Here are some options to consider from the Mayo Clinic:
- Drink a cup of coffee: Caffeine may give you mild relief and help your body absorb your migraine medicine.
- Cool down: Put an ice pack or cold cloth on your forehead or scalp to soothe aura discomfort, maybe while lying in a dark, quiet room.
- Relax: Stress-induced migraines are very real. Consider managing stress with things like yoga, meditation, acupuncture or massage therapy.
- Get consistent sleep: Too much sleep — or too little — might trigger headaches. Shoot for 7 to 8 hours each night, while going to bed and waking up at the same time each day.
- Hydrate: Plenty of fluids (especially water) may help ward off symptoms.
- Exercise: Endorphins from a regular workout may help prevent headaches.
How to manage unexpected migraines
Sometimes you can do your best to help prevent a migraine, but they still may happen. Sometimes your acute migraine medications are not relieving the pain. Or sometimes a migraine just happens without any warning. It may be hard to know what to do. If your situation is life-threatening or very serious, you may need to go to an ER. However, if your situation is not life-threatening, there are other options to consider for getting the care you need. You can contact your migraine doctor, set up a virtual care visit or visit an urgent care. In these non-emergency situations, it may be helpful to consider more care options other than ER, to help you quickly get the treatment you need.
Stress and migraines
Stress is a common trigger for migraines.7 They may be caused by stress-related changes in brain chemicals, like serotonin (which helps regulate pain). The key is to help manage your stress in a healthy and consistent way. What does that mean exactly? If your body is used to high stress, a weekend off to unwind may cause a “let down” migraine. So, it’s important to navigate and lessen your stressors to help keep your body and mind in balance.7 Learn more about managing stress.
How can I get help if I’m struggling with migraines?
Schedule a visit with your primary care provider (PCP — the doctor or provider you might see for your yearly exam). Have a conversation about your symptoms (be specific). From there, you may be referred to a headache specialist, like a neurologist. If you're already seeing a doctor for your migraines, be sure to see them on a regular basis to stay on top of symptoms and treatments. This may help you avoid an urgent situation that may require more immediate care, like an ER visit. If the first treatment you try doesn't work, make another appointment to talk about more options.