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What does a migraine feel like?

Dr. Charisse Litchman

Medically reviewed by Dr. Charisse Litchman, MD, FAHS on August 18, 2020

A classic migraine headache involves pain that is typically pulsating, focused on one side of the head, and moderate or severe in intensity. Migraines are usually made worse by movement. To meet the definition of a migraine, the headache is accompanied by sensitivity to light (photophobia) or sound (phonophobia), nausea and vomiting, or both.

There are different types of migraines with different symptoms, including migraines with and without aura and chronic migraines.

Migraines without aura typically include pulsating pain focused on one side of the head, sensitivity to light and/or sound, and nausea and/or vomiting. 

Migraines with aura, include additional vision problems, such as seeing zig-zag lines or flashing lights, and can be further divided into different types of migraines:

  • Typical migraines with aura: These migraines are accompanied by visual disturbances, like seeing sparks or zig-zag lines in your field of vision, tingling one one side of the body, and difficulty with speech, language or controlling movement.
  • Retinal migraines: These migraines are accompanied by vision problems, like visual disturbances, blind spots, and partial or total loss of vision, all of which go away when the migraine ends. These symptoms last for between 5 and 60 minutes and are either accompanied by a headache or precede a headache by an hour or less.
  • Brainstem (Basilar) migraines: These migraines are preceded or accompanied by an aura and include at least two of these symptoms: trouble speaking or slurred speech, vertigo, ringing ears, sensitivity to sounds, double vision, and problems with motor control or coordination. Although these symptoms mimic more serious problems like a stroke, they disappear entirely when the migraine passes.
  • Hemiplegic migraines: These migraines are preceded or accompanied by aura symptoms and include motor weakness, as well as visual, sensory, or speech problems that fully disappear when the migraine passes.

Chronic migraines include headaches that occur 15 or more days per month for more than three months, with at least eight of the headaches having migraine symptoms.

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