man at table holding head

Migraines are a type of headache. Primary headache disorders – migraine, tension headache and cluster headache – constitute nearly 98% of all headaches. Understanding which type of migraines or headaches you have can be tricky, even after diagnosis.

Is it a Headache or Migraine? What Kinds of Migraines Are There?

A handy starter guide to the basic classifications of migraines and headaches.

Types of Migraine

Migraines are classified as a type of headache. Here’s a closer look at this headache subtype.

Depending on the symptom expression, doctors classify migraines differently.

Migraine without aura or a common migraine: This type of migraine usually arises as pain on one side of the head, but can be both. It can include a pulsating headache with pain that occurs without warning. It often includes increased sensitivity to light, sound, or smells and can often include nausea, confusion, blurred vision, mood changes, fatigue. Pain can last three days. 70% of migraine patient experiences this type.

Migraine with aura or a complicated migraine: 10–60 minutes before a migraine occurs, visual disturbances and other neurological symptoms appear. Symptoms of the aura may include temporary loss of part or all of your vision. Nausea, loss of appetite, and increased sensitivity to light, sound, or noise are all reported aura symptoms. Some people experience a tingling sensation in the hands or face, trouble speaking or confusion.

Note: If you sometimes have aura and sometimes don’t, your doctor will likely diagnose you with both migraine conditions.

Chronic migraine: This migraine can be with or without aura, but denotes that symptoms appear for 15 days a month. There may be considerable variability in the severity of the symptoms and head pain on any specific day. On days with less pain, people often mistake the pain for a “tension-headache” or “sinus headache” because the pain is less severe. That is included in the count to see if you are symptomatic for 15+ days.

Silent migraine: This is a migraine without head pain, also called an Acephalgic Migraine. With this type of a migraine, you may experience sudden dizzying aura and other visual disturbances. You may have typical migraine symptoms including nausea and vomiting, but no head pain.

Hemiplegic migraine: With this type of rare migraine, patients report issues on one side of their bodies such as numbness or muscle weakness. The temporary paralysis can sometimes last several days and feel scary. Symptoms may include vertigo, a stabbing sensation, visual problems, issues with speaking or swallowing. These may begin prior to the headache pain and usually stop shortly thereafter.

Retinal migraines: Very rare. With these, the attacks cause visual loss or disturbances in one eye. This type of migraine is particularly concerning, and the patient should see a specialist. Most common in women, the blindness of these can last anywhere from minutes to months and is fully reversible.

Abdominal migraine: This type is most often seen in children. It is characterized primarily of abdominal pain, nausea, and vomiting. About half of children with an abdominal migraine grow out of them by the age of 14–16 years. Sometimes patients with non-specific dyspepsia, irritable bowel syndrome, and functional abdominal pain are later found to have an abdominal migraine, as the condition is often initially misdiagnosed.

Types of Headache

Here are some common kinds of non-migraine headaches.

Tension headaches: This is the most common type of headache and typically last from 30 minutes to seven days. The pain is commonly described as “a band around the head” or vice-like, and typically occurs on both sides. The pain is generally mild to moderate.

A tension-type headache does not usually appear with nausea or vomiting. It may be accompanied by increased light or sound sensitivity, but not both. It may be associated with tenderness of the neck muscles. These headaches have been called by various names including muscle contraction headache, stress headache, ordinary headache, idiopathic headache, and psychogenic headache, but most doctors now prefer the title tension headache or tension-type headache (TTH).

Cluster headaches: Coming on quickly, cluster headaches can cause unilateral, pain behind or around the eye. Symptoms sometimes include teary eyes, red eyes, swollen or a drooping eye lid, nasal congestion or runny nose. These attacks last about 15 minutes to three hours. There may be a seasonal pattern. This headache type is rare and affects about 1 to 2 people in 1,000.

The Migraine Insight Pattern Finder

Our pattern finder works for all headache and migraine types.

In our app, we compare your triggers to when you have migraine episodes or when your episodes intensify. Our pattern finder works no matter what type of headache disorder you have. 85% of our users that track for 12 or more weeks reduce or eliminate migraines. 

The most helpful feature in our app is the pattern finder. With the results  and getting to know what’s really triggering episodes, you and your care team can make more informed decisions about how to treat your specific situation.

Further Reading – Medical Sources of Headache and Migraine Classifications

One of the clearest and most trusted sources of medical information is the Mayo Clinic. Here’s a page with more information on headaches and migraines from the Mayo Clinic.

Here’s the Merck Manual for 
headaches and migraines.