We describe 12 types of migraines, plus 4 types of severe headaches that some may erroneously describe as migraine headaches. This article can help you tell what kind of migraine you have, or if you have a migraine in the first place.

What is a migraine? A migraine is a neurological condition that can cause visual disturbances, usually in both eyes, and severe throbbing pain, usually on only one side of the head. Migraines attacks may last for hours or even days at a time.

There are 2 main types of migraines:

  1. Migraines without aura — common migraines not accompanied by visual symptoms
  2. Migraines with aura — complicated migraines, preceded by visual symptoms, like flashing lights

But there are many more specific subtypes of migraine we’ll talk about below, like ocular migraine, vestibular migraine, and transformed migraine.

You may have chronic migraine (transformed migraine) if you suffer from migraine symptoms at least 15 days in a month. This is the most common complaint at headache specialty centers in the US.

The exact cause of migraines is largely unknown, although experts have identified several migraine triggers, such as:

  • Stress
  • Smoking
  • Hormone changes
  • Sleep disturbances
  • Weather changes
  • Certain medications
  • Red wine
  • Aged cheeses
  • Smoked fish
  • Caffeine (including in soda, coffee, chocolate, tea)

We’ll define common types of migraines and other very painful headaches. Bookmark this page so you can look back on this helpful info and even share it with your friends!

Looking for evidence-based chiropractic treatment of your migraines or headaches? Schedule an appointment with us at Denver Upper Cervical Chiropractic.

Migraine without Aura (Common Migraine)

Migraine headaches are the second most common kind of headache after tension headaches. Chronic migraines affect millions of Americans every year. Many consider migraine to be the most severe headache pain you can experience.

Migraine is the number one neurological disorder causing disability in the world.

Symptoms of migraine without aura include:

  • Pulsating, throbbing pain that is made worse by physical activity
  • Stiff neck
  • Anxiety
  • Nausea and vomiting
  • Light sensitivity
  • Noise sensitivity

These symptoms are different from person to person. Migraines can last hours or sometimes even days. You may experience warning signs up to an hour before the headache pain begins, such as nausea. Some migraineurs don’t even experience the headache pain.

While tension-type headaches cause tension and pain on both sides of your head, a migraine usually causes pain on one side of your head. Read about the differences between migraine and headache.

Migraines come in 4 stages:

  1. Prodrome
  2. Aura (not in common migraine)
  3. Attack
  4. Postdrome

Chronic migraine is defined as displaying migraine symptoms at least 15 days per month, whereas episodic migraine is when you have migraines less often than 15 days a month.

According to the International Classification of Headache Disorders (ICHD-3), you must have at least 5 migraine attacks each year to be formally diagnosed with migraines.

Common treatments for migraines include:

  • Chiropractic care
  • Stress relief
  • Pain medication (over-the-counter or prescription), such as ibuprofen
  • Anti-seizure drugs, like topiramate
  • Triptans
  • Opioids
  • Antidepressants
  • Botox injections
  • CGRP monoclonal antibodies
  • Blood pressure medication

Be careful of taking too much medication, as you may build up a tolerance. Also, “medication overuse headache” is head pain brought on by too much of certain medications.

About two-thirds of migraine sufferers only ever experience common migraines, never migraines with aura.

Migraine with Aura (Complicated Migraine)

A complicated migraine is a migraine headache accompanied by a visual aura (visual disturbances). This is one of the most distinguishing features of migraines. If you experience a visual aura, you likely have a migraine, not just a headache.

A visual aura is a set of visual symptoms before a migraine attack, including:

  • Bright spots
  • Flashing lights
  • Blind spots
  • Moving lines
  • Double vision
  • Temporary loss of vision, in severe cases

About 1 in 3 people suffers from migraines with aura. Even then, not every migraine they experience will be accompanied by visual aura symptoms.

Ocular/Retinal Migraine

Retinal migraine causes quick attacks of blindness and/or other visual aura symptoms, but only in one eye. It is caused by the constricting and narrowing of blood vessels to the eye, which reduces blood flow to that eye.

It’s an important distinction between one eye and both eyes being affected. A regular migraine with aura affects both eyes and has different potential root causes.

A retinal migraine may also be known as:

  • Ocular migraine
  • Ophthalmic migraine
  • Monocular migraine
  • Visual migraine

Ocular/retinal migraines are rare. Half of 1% of migraine sufferers are affected by retinal migraines.

Silent (Acephalgic) Migraine

A silent migraine is when you experience the visual symptoms of a migraine aura, but without the headache pain.

Also known as “typical aura without headache” or “painless migraine”, this used to be called an acephalgic migraine, but that is now an outdated term.

These only occur in 5% of migraine sufferers — nearly 2 million people in the US alone.

Hemiplegic Migraine Headache

A hemiplegic migraine is a rare type of migraine. It is also a severe migraine, sharing some symptoms with stroke. If you may have hemiplegic migraine, seek help from a healthcare professional right away.

Hemiplegia is weakness on one side of the body, either the right or left. According to the National Stroke Association, as many as “9 out of 10 stroke survivors have some degree of paralysis immediately following a stroke.” But hemiplegia may also be caused by a migraine.

These hemiplegic migraines may run in the family.

This is a rare disorder. Studies in Denmark estimate 0.01% of people suffer from hemiplegic migraines worldwide, but the true number is unknown.

Vestibular Migraine

Vestibular migraines cause vertigo (dizziness), both positional and spontaneous. They may occur with or without headache pain, and with or without visual aura.

“Vestibular” means “affecting the perception of body position and movement”. It’s related to inner ear function, dizziness, and balance.

These migraines tend to run in the family. Just like normal migraines, vestibular migraines occur more often in women — particularly around the time of menstruation. Typical migraine triggers can also result in vestibular migraine.

Early evidence suggests that vestibular migraines may be associated with other vestibular disorders, such as Meniere syndrome and benign paroxysmal positional vertigo.

Hormonal Headaches & Menstrual Migraines

Nearly 10% of women may suffer from migraines or tension-type headaches associated with the beginning of menstruation.

Also called period headaches, hormonal headaches are when a drop in hormones leads to headache pain. Because the most common drop in hormones that causes headaches occurs before menstruation, these may also be called menstrual migraines.

The drop in estrogen just before a woman’s period may contribute to head pain. Many women with a history of migraines report headache pain around the time of menstruation with no other identifiable triggers.

Menstrual migraines may or may not present with aura.

Abdominal Migraine

Affecting mostly children, an abdominal migraine has nothing to do with headache pain. This mysterious type of migraine results in the following symptoms:

  • Abdominal pain, sometimes severe
  • Nausea
  • Vomiting

Symptoms may last for 1 hour or multiple days. The first abdominal migraine usually occurs between ages 2 and 10.

Abdominal migraines seem to be related to migraines since they occur mostly in children with a family history of migraines. Many children who are diagnosed with abdominal migraines go on to develop typical migraines in adulthood.

Some experts compare abdominal migraine to cyclic vomiting syndrome (CVS). Whereas abdominal migraines are characterized mainly by abdominal pain, CVS is characterized by unexplained nausea and vomiting. Both are much more common in children than in adults.

It’s estimated that up to 2% of children may get abdominal migraines before adulthood. Like regular migraines, girls are more frequently affected than boys.

Basilar Artery Migraines (with Brainstem Aura)

Sometimes called Bickerstaff migraines, a basilar migraine is a type of migraine that lasts about an hour and begins in your brain stem.

“Migraine with brainstem aura” is the recommended term, according to the International Headache Society (IHS). However, both “basilar migraine” and “migraine with brainstem aura” are still used interchangeably.

Some experts believe that basilar migraines occur due to vasoconstriction, or the narrowing of blood vessels. The muscular wall of the vessel tightens and constricts blood flow, causing headache pain and visual disturbances.

These types of migraines are sometimes called “basilar artery migraines” because some experts claim that a spasm of the basilar artery might be the root cause behind these migraine attacks.

Status Migrainosus

Status migrainosus is when migraine symptoms last longer than 72 hours. Because these symptoms may include sleep loss and vomiting, which may lead to severe dehydration, status migrainosus is particularly dangerous.

Sometimes called “intractable migraines,” this prolonged attack affects less than 1% of people with migraines.

A normal migraine may become status migrainosus if you don’t get treatment right after the attack or if you overmedicate. Other risk factors for status migrainosus include stress, hormone imbalances, changes in the weather, skipped meals, sleep loss, and more.

Potential symptoms of status migrainosus include:

  • Headache pain
  • Visual aura
  • Nausea and vomiting
  • Difficulty thinking clearly
  • Dehydration, due to vomiting
  • Sleep loss, due to prolonged pain

Less than 1% of migraine patients report 3 days or more of headache pain.

Transformed Migraines (Chronic Migraines)

Previously called transformed migraine headaches, chronic migraines are migraine attacks that strike at least 15 days per month. It “is the single most common condition seen in headache specialty centers in the United States.”

Because these are so persistent, transformed migraines can be very distracting, if not debilitating.

More than 4 million people suffer from chronic migraines, according to the Migraine Institute.

Cyclic Migraines

Cyclic migraines happen in cycles. They are migraines that occur consistently for 1 to 6 weeks, then do not occur at all for a period of time.

On average, cyclic migraine sufferers experience 10 attacks per month.

These migraines may be related to chronic migraines, but typically include longer headache-free periods of time.

Ice Pick Headaches

Also known as ophthalmodynia periodica or primary stabbing headaches, ice pick headaches are brief, repetitive jolts of head pain. They may feel like repeated stabs in your eye or temple.

Ice pick headaches are not migraines, though they often occur in your eye like ocular migraines, and are more likely to occur in individuals who suffer from migraines. An ice pick headache can occur at the same time as a migraine attack.

Until recently, ice pick headaches were thought to be quite rare. However, recent studies have suggested that ice pick headaches may occur in up to a third of the population.

Like migraines, ice pick headaches are more common in women.

Read Next: Trigeminal and Occipital Neuralgia: How To Tell the Difference

Hypnic Headache

A hypnic headache is a rare headache disorder that wakes you up and causes severe head pain. It almost never occurs during a daytime nap, only in the middle of the night.

Also called an alarm clock headache, hypnic headaches are not migraines. Although they typically present as tension headache-related, recent studies indicate that migraine symptoms may sometimes accompany hypnic headaches, such as nausea and sensitivity to light.

Unlike most headaches which decrease in frequency with age, hypnic headaches are more common at 50 years old and up.

Though rare, hypnic headaches may be biologically connected to your circadian rhythm.

Cluster Headaches

Cluster headaches are intense headaches originating from behind your eye that strike swiftly, often without warning. They affect about a million people in the United States each year.

These are not migraines. But because they involve intense pain, some erroneously call a cluster headache a “migraine” — perhaps to explain that the headache pain is severe, and “migraine” sounds worse than “headache”.

They are often felt behind an eye or on one side of the head only — similar to an ocular migraine.

However, cluster headaches do not throb, and they may trigger watery eyes and runny nose, unlike migraines.

A cluster headache may be triggered by increased blood flow due to widening blood vessels. Cluster headaches might occur multiple times in a day. They are more common in adult men — unlike migraines which occur more often in women.

Cervicogenic Headaches

A cervicogenic headache is when headache pain originates from a specific point in the spine. Often, the pain is a steady ache or a dull feeling. The best treatment for cervicogenic headaches seems to be chiropractic care.

Cervicogenic headaches can mimic migraine symptoms, but they are not migraines. While migraines are rooted in the brain, cervicogenic headaches are rooted in 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.


At Denver Upper Cervical Chiropractic, we treat all sorts of chronic headaches, including migraines and cervicogenic headaches, using precise, gentle upper cervical spinal adjustments.

Check out our patient testimonials on how Dr. Ty Carzoli and his team at Denver Upper Cervical Chiropractic helped them.

And here is what to expect for new patients at Denver Upper Cervical Chiropractic. We reserve Fridays for out of town patients.

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