Understanding which type of migraines or headaches you have can be tricky, even after diagnosis.

Is It A Headache or Migraine? And What Kinds of Migraines Are There?

Here’s a handy guide to the basic classifications of migraines and headaches to help you understand their differences. Keep in mind that migraines vary wildly in their symptoms, and many patients will have more than one diagnosis.

Let’s define a headache: Any continuous pain in the head. Headaches can be classified into over 100 conditions, but the most common is the tension headache.

Let’s define a migraine: A recurrent neurological condition characterized by attacks that usually include a throbbing headache on one side of the head, accompanied by nausea and disturbed vision and light or sound sensitivity. How a migraine expresses itself varies widely, and can change over time. Although most migraines include a headache, some do not.

Types of migraine

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

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.

Our Team: We are Here to Help

We are a small, dedicated app development team that wants you to better understand your migraines and triggers. Everyone on the team has lived with migraines at some point in their lives. We are your community, and we’re here to help. Reach out any time with questions. [email protected].

As always — please seek the advice of a doctor for medical questions. Our app team cannot give medical advice.

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