Millions of Americans suffer from migraines every year, but one specific type of migraine comes with some trippy visual symptoms.
Basilar migraines are a strange phenomenon, not well understood in the conventional medical community. These migraines start in the brain stem and are preceded by an “aura,” which is a set of visual symptoms, like seeing flashing lights that are not actually there.
It can be important to recognize the symptoms of a basilar migraine as well as discuss the potential causes of this medical condition.
The pharmaceutical industry thrives on masking symptoms but leaving root causes untouched. That way, the underlying cause keeps causing problems, and you have to continue buying medication.
At Denver Upper Cervical Care, our patients actually get better. Each person’s body has the ability to heal — if we simply address the root cause.
Basilar migraines are a bit mysterious, but there are several known risk factors that you can reduce. You can also learn about the 16 best treatment options if you read below.
Basilar migraines are a migraine type that lasts about an hour and begins in your brain stem.
Scientists are not 100% sure what exactly the cause is. Many believe basilar migraines occur due to vasoconstriction, or the narrowing of blood vessels. The muscular wall of the vessel tightens and constricts blood flow.
These types of migraines are sometimes called basilar artery migraines because some believe that a spasm of the basilar artery might be the main culprit behind these migraine attacks. Actually, this is a less and less common theory, and “basilar migraine” is no longer the recommended term.
What is a migraine with brainstem aura? Migraine with brainstem aura is the most recent term recommended for use by the International Headache Society (IHS). However, both “basilar migraine” and “migraine with brainstem aura” can still be used interchangeably at this point.
An aura can be scary the first time you experience it. A typical aura occurs less than an hour before the head pain starts.
A migraine aura is a set of visual symptoms that can accompany a migraine. All basilar migraines come with aura symptoms.
Basilar migraines are sometimes called Bickerstaff migraines, named after Edwin R. Bickerstaff who first identified the condition in 1961.
Are basilar migraines dangerous? This relatively rare type of migraine headache can be dangerous. Basilar migraines seem to increase your risk of ischemic stroke, especially in women who take contraceptives.
Also, basilar migraines can decrease your level of consciousness or awareness. This means you don’t want to get a basilar migraine while you’re driving.
Although basilar migraines feature aura symptoms, which can be a little frightening, these symptoms of migraines with brainstem aura include more than just visual symptoms.
There are several medical conditions easily confused with basilar migraines. A clinical diagnosis is very important to distinguish between a basilar-type migraine and a brain disorder.
The International Classification of Headache Disorders (ICHD) 3rd edition provides us with detailed diagnostic criteria:
To rule out neurological diseases, you may need to see a neurologist. The neurologist may administer a magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) scan or computer tomography (CT) scan to rule out a number of brain disorders, or an electroencephalogram (EEG) to rule out seizures.
What conditions might your doctor want to rule out before treating you for migraines with brainstem aura?
Basilar migraines are similar in nature to familial hemiplegic migraines. Hemiplegic migraines uniquely include weakness on one side of your body, as well as trouble speaking. A clear diagnosis will distinguish between the two.
Scientists do not know exactly why basilar migraines occur. But there are certain risk factors that have been attributed to basilar migraine attacks:
Also, it is worth noting that basilar headaches are more prevalent in females than males. Though basilar migraines have been observed appearing for the first time in patients as old as 62, these migraines typically affect adolescents and young adults.
Are basilar migraines hereditary? Typically, NO, basilar migraines are not inherited via genetic features.
However, in very rare cases, propensity towards basilar migraines can be due to a genetic mutation (in the ATP1A2 or CACNA1A genes). In these rare situations, a parent has a 50% chance of passing that susceptibility of basilar migraines on to a child.
How do you stop basilar migraines? Your body is a robust system, more than capable of healing itself if you are able to identify and address the underlying issue.
While we figure out how to resolve the root cause of your basilar migraine, there are also some easy methods to find pain relief.
Always talk to your doctor before starting any new medication or major lifestyle changes.
If you live in the greater Denver area, click here to request an appointment at Denver Upper Cervical Chiropractic. For your convenience, we reserve Fridays for out-of-town patients.
Note: Blood pressure medications are also a potential cause of basilar headaches, so you should not rely too heavily on them.
Even though these will not prevent migraine attacks, you can take these symptom relievers as soon as you feel aura or migraine symptoms to prevent symptoms from spiraling out of control.
These all-natural headache pain relievers just scratch the surface. There are dozens of supplements and essential oils that may improve your symptoms while you treat the source.
If you have basilar migraines, over-the-counter medication, rest, chiropractic care, and some simple lifestyle changes should relieve the headache pain.
However, if your migraine symptoms or aura symptoms make daily tasks difficult, see your doctor right away. If a migraine makes you lose consciousness, it is time to visit the ER.
Have you ever asked someone if they have a headache, and they said, “No, it’s a migraine”?
You both are correct.
A migraine is a specific type of headache. Migraine headaches have unique migraine symptoms though. They’re also a leading cause of workplace disability.
Migraines and other types of headache pain require unique treatments, too.
Below, I’ll discuss the differences between migraines and all other headache types — and how to effectively treat both.
There are several types of headaches other than migraine headaches. Let me briefly run through the most important types.
There are more types of headaches less common than the ones I just mentioned, such as caffeine headaches. Read in depth about all the headache types here.
Migraine sufferers often claim their migraine pain is worse than a normal headache. They’re right; the symptoms can be worse.
How do you know you have a migraine? The symptoms of migraine headaches can be easy to spot, whether people experience a mild or severe migraine attack:
Unfortunately, there are also prodrome symptoms, which means symptoms that occur in the day or two leading up to a migraine attack:
What is migraine with aura? Migraine headaches can present with or without aura, which is a set of visual disturbances.
Symptoms of aura may appear thirty minutes before migraine head pain starts. They include:
What can trigger migraines? Common migraine triggers include:
The differences between migraines and other headaches can be subtle. Sometimes, it’s more obvious.
Migraines are typically more painful and debilitating.
Migraine headaches usually last for between four and 72 hours, whereas tension headaches last between 30 minutes and one week, if left untreated.
The most common headache — tension headache — triggers pressure around both your temples and forehead. But if the pain is beyond moderate, it’s probably a migraine.
Can a headache turn into a migraine? For an unfortunate few, tension headaches can trigger migraines. This is likely due to the stress of a headache causing a migraine to develop. Although we always encourage patients to treat underlying causes of headaches, taking a pain reliever can stop the tension headache before it leads to a more painful migraine.
We compiled a list of easy treatment options for getting rid of your headache symptoms or chronic migraines. It’s wise to discuss some of these lifestyle changes with your doctor or neurologist.
Chiropractic care is a common and effective treatment for headaches and can relieve migraine pain. There’s a reason we at Denver Upper Cervical Chiropractic believe in the power of spinal alignment — we’ve seen it work hundreds of times.
If you live in the greater Denver area, click here to request an appointment with us. We reserve Fridays for out-of-town patients.
A healthy diet is key to preventing migraines. Avoid food additives. If you are prone to headaches, try cutting out potential migraine triggers like wheat and dairy.
Supplementing riboflavin (vitamin B2) or magnesium has shown promise in preventing migraines.
Good hydration may prevent headaches as well.
A regular sleep schedule is key. Not only does a good night’s sleep reduce stress, a sleep routine can decrease potential migraine triggers.
Excessive caffeine consumption may lead to headaches. But caffeine withdrawal is a more common cause of headaches.
Relaxation techniques can reduce stress: meditation, yoga, going outside. Stress is a trigger for both tension headaches and migraines.
If you’re looking for temporary pain relief, there are a few options — both over-the-counter medicines and all-natural remedies. Keep in mind, the pharmaceuticals in this list come with some potentially nasty side effects, particularly when used in excess.
Did you know that your average headache relief medication is simply hiding the symptoms of your headache? Imagine if proper treatment was to address the root cause of headaches.
45 million Americans suffer from chronic headaches each year. Up to 4% of the world’s population experience chronic daily headaches.
There are many different types of headaches, such as migraines or tension headaches. Some types stem from different root causes.
At Denver Upper Cervical Chiropractic, we believe in treating the underlying causes of headaches. A headache is your body’s way of telling you something is wrong — and you can often fix what’s truly wrong with the right care.
Even some traditional medicines are just masking the symptoms of your headaches, instead of treating the underlying cause. In other words, you may not have a headache because you are ginger-deficient.
Let’s take a look at what a headache is, what causes them, and how to treat the root causes.
A headache (AKA head pain) is caused by many different headache triggers.
For instance, a primary headache is likely caused by abnormal activity around structures in the head that are pain-sensitive. This can involve muscular activity, blood vessels, and nerves in the head or neck.
A tension headache can be caused by stress and bad posture. Another common cause is strenuous activity.
However, a secondary headache has all sorts of potential root causes.
You can get a secondary headache due to dehydration, medication overuse, caffeine withdrawal, allergies, infections, or issues with your spine.
It is important that you consult a healthcare professional to help identify the root cause of your headache. It may be a simple fix, such as diet, stress relief, or a chiropractic adjustment.
If you live in the greater Denver area, click here to request an appointment at Denver Upper Cervical Chiropractic. We reserve Fridays for out-of-town patients.
Primary headaches are thought to be triggered by issues in your blood vessels — often benign issues that only lead to headaches, nothing else.
Primary headache disorders make up more than 90% of headache-related pain.
There are four main types of primary headache: tension, migraine, cluster headaches, and hemicrania continua.
First on our list, tension headaches are the result of bad posture or stress. This causes the back of the neck and your scalp muscles to tighten. A tension headache feels like the sides of the head are squeezing in.
A tension-type headache is the most common type of headache. Women over 20 years old are at highest risk.
Noise and stuffy environments can strengthen a tension headache.
Tension headaches can last for minutes or days.
Migraine headaches are the second most common kind of headache. Chronic migraines affect millions of Americans every year. Many consider this the worst headache you can get.
Migraine symptoms include intense throbbing pain, stiff neck, and anxiety. It can be accompanied by light or noise sensitivity.
Where tension headaches cause tension on both sides of your head, a migraine is usually on only one side of your head. Migraines can last hours, or even days.
Some people will experience an “aura” (a set of visual symptoms) before a migraine attack:
The third most common primary headache is the cluster headache, which affects about a million people in the United States each year.
A cluster headache does not throb. They are often felt behind an eye or on one side of the head only.
Cluster headaches can occur multiple times a day, and they are more common in adult men.
A cluster headache is likely triggered by increased blood flow due to widening blood vessels.
This is a rare headache disorder. Hemicrania continua exhibits headache symptoms but usually only on one side of the head. The cause is unknown, but hemicrania continua persists, with only a handful of documented remissions.
Secondary headaches are caused by an underlying medical condition instead of just an abnormality in your blood vessels.
These are less common, but still important to understand. Since it is important to treat the root cause of your headache — not just mask the symptoms — it can be helpful to see all the possible secondary causes laid out for you.
Here are the twelve common types of headaches (secondary) you need to understand:
Though cervicogenic headaches can mimic migraines, cervicogenic headaches originate from the cervical spine or base of the skull.
A cervicogenic headache can be brought on by poor posture, a pinched nerve in your neck, osteoarthritis, whiplash trauma, or a prolapsed disc.
Spinal headaches happen when cerebrospinal fluid slowly leaks — usually after a spinal tap, epidural, or spinal block for anesthesia.
Your sinuses are typically filled with air. So, when inflammation irritates your sinuses (a sinus infection, AKA sinusitis), the pressure triggers a sinus headache.
In some cases, caffeine can lead to a headache, but more commonly, “caffeine withdrawal headaches” occur after you stop consuming caffeine.
Caffeine causes blood vessels in your brain to constrict. This slows blood flow. When you remove caffeine from your daily routine, this causes blood vessels to expand, which often triggers a headache.
Also called “rebound headaches,” medication overuse headaches can occur after you decrease dosage or completely stop taking certain medications. These medications are typically anti-inflammatories and painkillers that alleviate headache pain.
After stopping these medicines, you might expect to get a headache:
Meningitis headaches arise due to the inflammation of the membranes that protect the skull, brain, and spinal cord.
Meningitis is an infection of membranes, called meninges.
You may get headaches after a head trauma. If a headache develops immediately following a head injury, seek immediate medical attention.
Head trauma may also result in chronic headaches.
If you have a brain tumor or brain aneurysm (AKA brain bleed), this can cause a headache.
Since there is only so much room in the skull, a tumor or bleeding both push outwards on the skull. Pressure on the brain and skull trigger a headache.
A hypnic headache is a headache that wakes you up.
Unlike most headaches which decrease in frequency with age, hypnic headaches are more common at 50 years old and up.
There is mild throbbing but no sensitivity to light or sound. Though rare, hypnic headaches may be biologically connected to your circadian rhythm.
Hypertension (high blood pressure) can lead to headaches because it messes with your blood-brain barrier.
This is a controversial type of headache. The American Heart Association, for instance, does not recognize hypertension headaches.
Although conflicting, there are several studies that show a strong correlation between high blood pressure and headaches.
When you don’t have enough fluid in your body, you can develop a dehydration headache.
You need the right balance of fluids and electrolytes in your system to function. Usually, you replenish the fluids you lose in sweat and urination with drinking and eating. But sometimes, you just get dehydrated.
When you don’t have the proper levels of fluids, your brain shrinks, pulling away from the inside of your skull. This triggers a headache.
Drinking too much alcohol can result in a hangover the next day. A hangover can include a splitting headache, due to the combined effects of excess alcohol and the dehydration that comes with excessive alcohol.
Cranial neuralgia (nerve pain in your head) refers to inflammation in one of your 12 cranial nerves that control muscles and send pain signals to and from your head and neck.
One widely recognized cranial neuralgia is trigeminal neuralgia. This affects your fifth cranial nerve, which can cause profound facial pain when the nerve is inflamed or irritated.
We want you to get rid of your headache for real, by treating the underlying causes, not just brushing the superficial symptoms under a rug.
Lots of headaches are “cervico-genic” headaches — generated in the cervical spine and felt in the head. That’s why they so frequently involve neck pain and uncomfortable motion.
We employ thorough exams with 3-D imaging to get the best picture of your spinal health. Unknowingly, people have misalignments that contribute to terrible headaches.
Using gentle, instrument-assisted adjustments, we can address the upper cervical misalignment patients deal with. Commonly they see improvement in intensity, duration or frequency — many times, all three get better!
While it’s important to assess individual needs before making promises, nearly every patient ever adjusted for migraines has seen resolution in their headaches.
For those on the road to recovery, you may want to check out the below all-natural treatment options, medications, and simple lifestyle changes. These may reduce headaches from occurring in the first place and aid in recovery.
There are some great reasons for treating what ails you with all-natural methods. And there are some encouraging, research-backed treatment options.
Riboflavin (vitamin B2) has shown significant preventative effects for migraines.
Magnesium seems to prevent migraines in a significant number of patients.
If you want pain relief while you treat the underlying causes of your headache, you might find the following natural pain relievers helpful:
Our goal as an upper cervical chiropractic clinic is to offer drug-free headache and migraine treatment by correcting the root cause of each patient’s pain. Pharmaceuticals come with adverse side effects and are seldom preventive medications.
These common over-the-counter pain medications can temporarily give relief, but are not a long term solution:
These are some simple lifestyle changes that can make a huge impact on headaches. Lifestyle changes can address some common root causes of headaches, such as bad posture and stress.
Aerobic exercise several times a week has been shown to decrease the intensity of headaches — but maybe stay away from high-intensity workouts. For a few subjects, it also decreased the frequency.
A healthy diet is also important to prevent headaches. Many headache sufferers identify food triggers, such as food additives, wheat, and dairy. A healthy diet of whole foods should avoid chemical preservatives and inflammatory food agents.
Chiropractic care is essential for headache prevention since spinal misalignment can contribute to the majority of headaches. Studies show that going to a good chiropractor can reduce the frequency, duration, intensity of headaches — as well as medication reliance.
Excessive caffeine consumption can trigger headaches on the daily. This means six or more cups of coffee a day. However, periodic caffeine can help alleviate headaches.
Caffeine withdrawal also leads to headaches. Avoid cutting caffeine cold turkey — either from coffee, soda, tea, pills, etc.
A full night’s sleep can do wonders for your headaches. A full night’s sleep relieves stress and can lead to fewer migraines and tension headaches.
Stress-relieving practices can reduce the frequency of tension headaches, which are triggered by bad posture and stress. Meditation, yoga, looking away from the computer screen, and being outside have all been linked with a decrease in stress.
A research-backed practice that requires some commitment is thermal biofeedback, learning to increase the skin temperature of your fingers. This involves hours of training and at-home sessions. But many studies confirm thermal biofeedback may be comparable to pharmaceuticals, without all those pesky side effects.
As there are so many root causes of headaches, it is wise to seek medical advice when diagnosing a recurrent or overwhelming headache.
Your healthcare provider should consider your medical history (as detailed as you can get). He or she should also administer a physical, which should include a complete neurological evaluation.
Your healthcare provider may also need to run blood tests, take x-rays of the sinuses or skull, or — in severe cases — a CT scan or MRI.
Dealing with migraines and tired of getting only temporary relief? Let us help.
The vast majority of headaches are not life-threatening by any means.
However, you should seek urgent medical attention if a headache’s onset immediately followed a head injury.
Also, if any of these symptoms occur, get to a hospital as soon as possible:
If you experience chronic or severe headaches, you may quickly want to seek medical help to diagnose and identify the underlying causes of your persistent headaches.
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