Different Types Of Migraines | Recognize Your Own Type

Headaches take turn a good day into a bad one and migraine headaches are even worse. While there is no cure for migraines, knowing the type that you have can help your healthcare provider help you treat the pain and discomfort. When it comes to your health, knowledge is power and can help you learn to relax.

Symptoms and Types of Migraines

Migraines and the economy

Migraines and other types of headaches are costly to the US labor force. According to a study published in PharmacoEconomics, 50 percent of people in the study who suffered from migraines reported missing “at least two days of work per month.” When this study was published in 1992, the cost of paying for missed work ranged between $5.6 billion and $17.2 billion annually. Those dollar amounts are impressive even today.

Why headaches and migraines are difficult to diagnose

According to research published in Neurology, headaches, including the different types of migraines, are difficult for healthcare providers to diagnose. The trouble comes from migraines seeming like tension-type headaches. When headaches are misdiagnosed, those who suffer do not get the care they need. Therefore, it is vital that patients share all of their symptoms and healthcare providers look at the pathology and epidemiology of those symptoms.

Headaches of all types have overlapping symptoms, like neck pain and sensitivity to light. When people who suffer from tension-type headaches have problems with photophobia and migraine sufferers have problems with neck pain, the overlapping symptoms can create problems for diagnoses. Looking at all of the symptoms are keys to successful diagnoses and helpful treatment plans.

Symptoms of migraines

According to research published in Therapeutic Advances in Chronic Disease, people who suffer from migraines have a common experience.  “The name ‘migraine’ originally comes from the Greek word hemicrania, meaning ‘half of the head’” and people who suffer from migraines report experience pain on one-half of their heads. But, there are people who have been diagnosed with migraines who experience pain in the front and/or the back of their heads. It is rare for people to experience pain in their faces or in the body. More than double the number of women experience migraines when compared to men.

Sufferers describe migraine pain as throbbing and when they move, the pain worsens. Other symptoms include

  • Dizziness
  • Nausea
  • Sensitivity to light
  • Sensitivity to sound
  • Sensitivity to smells
  • Lack of appetite
  • Issues with digestion, especially bowel movements
  • Auras
  • Premonitory symptoms

Types of migraines

According to NIH MedlinePlus, there are several different types of headaches. Migraines and related headaches are vascular in pathology. Migraines happen most often, but the other two types of vascular headaches are toxic headaches that come from fevers and disease and cluster headaches that are intense and can last for 15 minutes or several hours.

The other types of headaches are related to tension or muscular issues.

Tension headaches are the most common, nearly 90 percent of all headaches fall into this category. They are usually easy to diagnose because they involve muscle tensing in the face and neck. Most people who have them describe the pain as pressure and the pain decreases as the muscle tension or stress dissipates.

There are tension headaches that can last for an incredibly long amount of time – weeks to months. The pain is described as feeling like a tight band is squeezing the head. Unlike migraines, which usually involve pain on one side of the head, chronic tension headaches are felt on both sides and they can be so painful that gentle hair brushing hurts.

The least common type of tension headache is the traction or inflammatory headache. These are symptoms of other problems like sinus infections, strokes, and TMJ. These headaches can be misleading for healthcare providers to diagnose because they might occur on one side of the face and they may not feel like a typical tension headache.

According to the National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke, there are also different types of migraines that come with slightly different symptoms and slightly different treatment options. They are all severe and have different degrees of pain.

  • Aura without headache – symptoms of migraine, minus the pain
  • Cervicogenic headache – caused by neck pain, usually caused by a spinal lesion
  • Chronic migraine – lasts for more than half of the days of any given month
  • Cluster headache – burning pain that happens around the eyes, temple, and back of the head
  • Common migraine (without aura) – no warning phase, no aura, but a throbbing pain with sound and light sensitivity, and other symptoms, including nausea
  • Complicated migraine (with aura) – warning phase includes the aura and leads to migraine symptoms
  • Hemiplegic migraine – a headache that can cause weakness on one side of the body, replicating the symptoms of a stroke
  • Ice-pick headache – sharp, quick pains in the orbit, temple, and parietal lobes
  • Retinal migraine – causes temporary loss of vision

Keeping a Headache Journal

If you or a family member suffers from headaches of any type, being able to describe how you feel when they happen will help your healthcare provider properly diagnose the type you have. The best way to do this is to keep a journal of your headaches. In each entry include the symptoms, the duration of the headache – including the time it began and ended. Share if you experienced any sensitivities to sound, light, smells, movement. Include odors you smelled before, during, and after the headache, too.

You should also include information about your current health in the journal. If you are taking medication or you have any mental or physical health issues. Include how much sleep and the quality of it in the journal and share information about the weather, too. You can also help your healthcare provider make a proper diagnosis by sharing information about what you ate and drank within 24 hours of the headache. Women should include where they are in the menstrual cycles and family history is also important to include the headache journal, too.

The more information you give your healthcare provider, the best the diagnosis will be. Therefore, if there is anything out of the ordinary that happened during any of your headaches, be sure to record that information, too.




This article about different types of migraines is written in cooperation with Dr. Brent Wells.

Serving Wasilla, Anchorage, and the surrounding communities, Dr. Brent Wells offers patient-centered, personalized, and innovative chiropractic care. A California native, Dr. Wells earned a bachelor’s of science degree from the University of Nevada. He then attended Western States Chiropractic College in Portland, Oregon. In 1998, he and his wife Coni moved to Alaska and opened Top Chiropractor Wasilla. He is a proud member of the American Chiropractic Association and the American Academy of Spine Physicians.



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