9 Different Types of Migraines - Which Kind Do You Have?

If you’ve ever suffered from a migraine, you’ll know that it’s much more than a regular headache. If you are unsure whether or not you’ve experienced this form of headache, migraines are a recurring type of headache with debilitating pain, and are much more common than one may think.

All migraines are similar in the sense that they will severely restrict your day-to-day activities. Many migraine sufferers point out the apparent nausea, vomiting, and sensitivity to light and sound, but it is important to note that not all migraines are the same. If you feel as though you’ve experienced migraines before, or have experienced them for quite some time, identifying what type of migraine headache you suffer from is essential to understanding your attacks and determining the best treatment approach.

Let’s take a look at 9 migraine types, starting with the most common, migraine without aura.

1. Migraine without aura

Duration: 4 - 72 hours of headache pain, with additional duration from a prodrome or postdrome

Roughly 70% of migraine sufferers have been diagnosed with migraine without aura. But, what’s important about this type of migraine is that it includes a few phases, with the most painful part as the headache. Sufferers know when their headache is approaching with the prodrome phase, and they feel the after effects with the postdrome, or “hangover” phase.


  • The prodrome phase may be experienced hours or days before the headache, and cue you that the headache pain is coming.

  • Symptoms:

  • Constipation or diarrhea

  • Food cravings

  • Mood changes (irritability, depression, etc.)

  • Fatigue

  • Muscle stiffness

  • Yawning

  • Sensitivity to light and sound


  • The headache pain typically lasts 4 - 72 hours (if untreated)

  • Symptoms:

  • Moderate to severe pain

  • Throbbing pain

  • Worsening of headache with physical movement

  • Pain on one side of the head

  • Sensitivity to light and sound

  • Nausea and/or vomiting


  • Even after the headache is over, the migraine may continue to cause discomfort. This recovery period may vary depending on the person and the intensity of their pain, but it may take hours to days to fully recover.

  • Symptoms:

  • Fatigue

  • Lowered mood levels (depression)

  • Poor concentration and comprehension

2. Migraine with aura

Duration: 4 - 72 hours of headache pain, with 5-60 minutes of aura symptoms right before the headache pain

  • Aura symptoms:

  • Flashes of light

  • Blind spots

  • Other forms of visual disturbances

Similar to Migraine without aura, Migraine with aura often includes prodrome, headache, and postdrome phases. The key difference is the notable visual disturbances in those with aura, which occurs between the prodrome and headache. These may include, but are not limited to: blind spots outlined as geometric shapes, zigzag lines that float across your field of vision, shimmering spots or stars, flashes of light, or changes in vision/visual loss. Refer to this video for more information and examples of what visual disturbances typically look like.

Other temporary disturbances caused by this type of migraine include: numbness or tingling in one hand or one side of the face, speech or language difficulty, or muscle weakness.

3. Migraine without headache (silent migraine)

Duration: an hour or less

  • Main symptoms:

  • No head pain

  • Have food cravings

  • Stiffness in the neck

  • Jagged lines

  • Flashing lights

  • Blind spots

While headache is the most common and expected symptom of migraine, not all types of migraine come with headache. The “silent migraine” is when someone experiences the migraine aura, visual disturbances, without any head pain, and is one of the most rare forms of migraine.

4. Abdominal migraine

Duration: 1 - 72 hours

  • Main symptoms:

  • Loss of appetite

  • Unable to eat

  • Nausea

  • Pale appearance

Rather than a form of headache, abdominal migraines make the belly ache. Most common in children, though still possible in adults, sufferers of abdominal migraines will likely experience migraine headaches in older age.

5. Status migrainosus

Duration: 72+ hours

  • Main symptoms:

  • Throbbing pain on one or both sides of the head

  • Nausea and/or vomiting

  • Sensitivity to light and sound

  • Dizziness

Affecting less than 1% of migraine sufferers, this type of migraine is extremely rare and extremely painful. Though its symptoms are similar to migraine without aura, the duration is definitely not. Even with treatment, this type of migraine will last 72 hours or more, and though the headache may disappear for a few hours, it will always reappear within the 72+ hour period. Similarly, while most migraine types appear multiple times a month, status migrainosus only appears in a single debilitating attack.

6. Menstrual migraine

Duration: 4 - 72 hours

  • Main symptoms:

  • Throbbing pain

  • Sensitivity to light and sound

If you are noticing a severe headache with sensitivity to light and sound from 2 days before your period to the first 3 days of flow, it is likely that you suffer from menstrual migraine. This form of migraine is triggered by menstrual hormones, as it only appears near or during your period. 70 percent of all migraine sufferers are female, and 60 to 70 percent report a hormonal relationship with their migraines. Women with menstrual migraines may also experience other types of migraines. 50 percent have one attack per month, and 25 percent have four or more, and most of these women report suffering from migraine without aura, in addition to their menstrual migraines.

7. Vestibular migraine

Duration: 5 minutes - 72 hours

  • Main symptoms:

  • Motion sickness caused by movement of head

  • Dizziness from looking at moving objects (cars, people walking, etc.)

  • Lightheadedness

  • Feeling imbalanced

This type of migraine is seen in individuals who have a history of migraine, and only appears during an episode of vertigo. Vertigo is the illusion that you, your environment, or those around you, are spinning. Similar to abdominal migraine, those who experience vestibular migraine do not experience any head pain.

8. Hemiplegic migraine

Duration: 1 hour to several days, typically disappears after 24 hours

  • Main symptoms:

  • Motor weakness on one side of the body

  • Headache

  • Typical aura symptoms (numbness, tingling, visual disturbances)

  • Increased sensitivity to light and sound

  • Impaired consciousness (confusion to profound coma)

Hemiplegic migraines are one of the most rare types of migraine. The main symptom, motor weakness on one side of the body, is extremely similar to and often mistaken for a stroke or an epileptic episode. This migraine attack can be quite terrifying for both the migraineur and to those witnessing. If you believe you have experienced a hemiplegic migraine, contacting a headache specialist for a diagnosis is essential.

It is important to know that this type of migraine is mostly genetic, familial hemiplegic migraine, but may also suddenly appear with no genetic history, which is known as sporadic hemiplegic migraine. Since it is extremely rare, we urge you to not diagnose yourself with hemiplegic migraines, but to seek a professional diagnosis.

9. Retinal migraine

Duration: 5 - 20 minutes

  • Main symptoms:

  • Partial or total loss of vision in one eye

  • Headache (may occur before, during, or after the attack)

  • Scintillations (seeing twinkling lights)

  • Scotoma (areas of decreased or lost vision, often evident through clusters of black dots)

Although short lived, retinal migraine episodes can be terrifying. They are most often caused when the blood vessels to an eye begin to constrict and tighten, reducing the blood flow. It is important to seek a diagnosis to rule out underlying causes to a retinal migraine attack, and to ensure that an individual is experiencing this type of migraine, and not migraine with aura.

Chronic vs episodic migraine

Now that you may have identified your migraine type, it is important to observe how many days, per month, you have a headache or migraine. Below are the two migraine categories, chronic and episodic migraine.

Chronic migraine

A diagnosis of chronic migraine (CM) requires 15 or more headache days per month, with 8 of those days having headaches with migraine features. In addition, a minimum time period of 3 months is required in order to be diagnosed.

Episodic migraine

Different from CM, an individual who experiences 0 to 14 headache days per month is diagnosed with episodic migraine (EM). For those who are diagnosed with CM, it is extremely common to begin with an EM diagnosis before progressing to CM.

How can I be sure my headache is a migraine?

It is important to remember that just like the people it affects, not all migraines are the same. This not only includes migraine types, but symptoms as well. But, if none of the symptoms or descriptions above seem quite right, it’s possible you may be experiencing head pain that is not in the form of a migraine. Some of the most common include:

Tension headaches

  • Mild to moderate pain

  • Sensation of tightness or pressure across the forehead or on the sides of back of the head

  • Tenderness of the scalp, neck and shoulder muscles

  • Different types: episodic tension headaches (most similar to migraine) and chronic tension headaches

Sinus headaches

  • Deep and constant pain in cheekbones, forehead, or the bridge of the nose

  • Sensitive to head movement

  • Other sinus symptoms: runny nose, feeling of fullness in ears, swelling in the face, fever

Cluster headaches

  • Extreme head pain

  • Appears in clusters, lasting weeks to months

  • Very similar to migraines, but sufferers are able to pace, sit, or rock back and forth

  • Lasts from 30 - 60 minutes, whereas migraines have a longer duration

Ice pick headaches

  • Generally only last seconds

  • Also called “stabbing headaches”

  • Quick jabs or jolts of severe pain around the eye

  • Common with individuals who have experienced migraines or cluster headaches

If you feel as though you are experiencing one of the migraine or headache types above, consult a medical professional for a formal diagnosis and proper treatment. A 2015 study reported that 14.2 percent of American adults had experienced a severe headache or migraine within the year, so it is important to remember that if you suffer from chronic headaches or migraines, you are never alone in your pain. After your diagnosis, search for support groups or blogs to establish a safe and understanding community. This journey may be difficult, but with the right support, you will be able to overcome every obstacle.

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