Expert Answer: Migraine and seizures

Question: Is there a relationship between migraine and seizures?

There is definitely a link between migraine and seizures. Doctors have long recognized that migraine and epilepsy occur together more often than they would expect by chance alone. So people with migraines are more likely to also have a seizure disorder and people with epilepsy are more likely to also get migraines. For example, research shows that people with epilepsy are over twice as likely to also get migraines compared with people without a seizure disorder. In some cases, migraines can actually trigger seizures.

And many people experience headaches that can look like migraines after having experienced a seizure. About one in ten people with epilepsy also experiences headaches as a pre-seizure warning sign.

A variety of seizure drugs, like valproate, topiramate, and gabapentin, have been shown to reduce the frequency of migraine attacks. If your migraines get better when you use seizure drugs, this does NOT mean that your migraines are caused by seizures or a seizure disorder. Rather, there are some similarities in the underlying mechanisms of migraine and epilepsy that can be positively affected by the same drugs. Some of the same genetic markers for migraine have also been found in people with epilepsy.

Take home message — migraines and seizures are two different, distinct disorders. They are more likely to occur together and probably share similar biological mechanisms.

This article represents the opinions, thoughts, and experiences of the author; none of this content has been paid for by any advertiser. The Migraine.com team does not recommend or endorse any products or treatments discussed herein. Learn more about how we maintain editorial integrity here.

Comments

View Comments (30)
  • BchBm
    2 years ago

    This is an old post but it resonates. I had my first of multiple seizures at age 12 which is about when the migraines started. I just didn’t realize they were migraines at the time because it was mostly the non-pain part when I was younger. As I aged, the tonice clinic seizures abated and the full fledged pain filled migraine took their place but the “aura” between the two isn’t really any different. One just lasts longer than the other.

  • michelemar
    6 years ago

    I suffered a severe head injury in my early 20’s, than I had viral meningitis in my early 30’s, in my mid-30’s I had a total hysterectomy, and my mom had both migraines and epilepsy. After my hysterectomy I started having severe migraines with visual auras, right sided facial numbness, ataxia, and slurred speech. The neurologist I went to put me on every medicine possible, but my migraines persisted. Finally my husband (he’s a doctor) suggested that I try a different type of hormone replacement therapy (HRT), and I switched to premarin. After 2 years of suffering with 3-5 migraines a week I finally found the answer, and my migraines reduced considerably. I still get visual auras, and facial numbness, but it’s rare that I get a full blown migraine. I will get a migraine if I let my hormone levels drop too low.

    Than about 4 years ago I started noticing odd things – friends and family would tell me I seemed to be forgetting things, that I “spaced out” during a conversation and appeared to not be “present” etc. Finally, I woke up about 2 months ago, and noticed huge bruises on my forehead and my computer screen was shattered. I had no idea what happened other than that I assumed there was some connection. I than started noticing more and more lumps and bumps on my head, and other parts of my body, with no recollection of how I’d gotten these bruises, etc. Finally, about a month ago I went on a short, and very tiring trip to LA and Vegas. I was extremely tired, and lights have always bothered me, or been a factor in setting off my migraines. It was finally in Las Vegas that I had multiple seizures in front of numerous people. Given that my spouse is a doctor I received immediate care. The neurologist that I went to has told me that I had 3 factors for seizures which were a bad head injury, viral meningitis and my mother’s prior history of epilepsy. He explained to me that I have a focal region in my brain that has some type of “damage.” I have seizures that are commonly called “dropsy” – where I lose all muscle tone, collapse, lose consciousness and wake up with no memory. Of interest I also experience a right sided head pain prior to my seizures, and all my migraines were always right sided, as were the symptoms that I had with my migraines – such as right sided facial numbness. So other’s may know – my doctor believes that there is definitely a genetic component to my seizures, and that there may be a link between migraines and seizures. The drugs to treat seizures are not pleasant I’ve, thus far, failed two of them – Keppra and Lamictal (got the deadly rash), and I now am on a starting dose of Oxcarbazepine. Of note I’m also starting to experience more visual auras, yet no headaches other than the minor right sided headache I get prior, and after, my seizure. I hope my story helps somebody else especially if they have a doctor that isn’t listening to them. I couldn’t possibly have ever dreamed that any of this would have happened to me. Remember I didn’t have a single migraine until after having a total hysterectomy at age 35. I’m now 55, and it appears as stated above that I’ve been having seizures for the last 4 years. Welcome to the world of a malfunctioning brain – said with a smile.

  • dwnmck
    7 months ago

    Thank you for sharing your story. Today is 6/10/18. You posted your story 5 years ago. .

    I experience stupid h/a since I was knee-high to a grasshopper. (I’m from Texas). Formally diagnosed with migraines in 1996. Had my first seizure in 2001. Formally diagnosed with epilepsy at that time. I had 1 neurologist the entire time-she is phenomenal! I’m a mental Health Professional and a “hostile patient “.

    6/2017, my neurologist retired-the nerve! I found and have been attending to a new Nero since 3/2018. I’m extremely picky and… “hostile “.

    New Neuro changed me to Keppra xr (brand name) 30 mg HS and NO abort medication.

    Anywho,

    My med regime was: topamax 500mg HS dropped to 400mg HS beginning 2001-present (epilepsy and migraine prevention) Zomig 5mg PRN for migraines.

    I’ve experienced a grand mal seizeure ( 0 seizes since 2007) and ER visit for debilitating migraine headache.

    Appointment for EEG: So, I bring my 2011 MRI images to this appointment in order to prepare my neuro for our upcoming appointment (the following week).

    An office girl poses-obviously as she has many times-evidenced by the ability to assume the stance quickly and w/o difficulty or hesitation- placing a hand on one hip, tilting hip up slightly, other hand placed on file cabinet, curtness and stern voice tone observed, eye contact made, pleasantries omitted from remark, affect: flat and constricted. I was immediately informed “No one reads films anymore!”

    So, I dropped my package of MRI film images in the hallway and proceed to follow the gigantic ex NFL player to the EEG room. Different story of unprofessional and poor health care tx.

    —-When i completed the EEG it was well after 5:00 pm on a Friday-therefore the front office was vacant. My package of MRI images were left in the hallway—NOT in the office with other HIPPA or PHI documents.

    The following dr appointment, I’m handed my package of MRI images. I politely ask if dr is prepared for today’s session-??? No-

    Confusion erupts and devours the front office. They are unsure if to turn on one another or on the patient…

    I ask, “if no one reads images/films anymore could y’all not have contacted the imaging source and ask for a CD/report?” I show the stunned front office female sharks … who to call and the phone number on the package-

    Moral of the story … it is advantageous to be a male health care provider-therefore your words will be heard and you will not be labeled “hostile “. Female, you will suffer unduly, you will be labeled wrongly, your colleagues will not listen, and it will cost you financially.

  • Kerbi Hansen
    7 years ago

    What I don’t understand is I have had migraines since I was a teen and appearently seizers since my early 20’s. Which no one cared to tell me about till it got bad and a friend called an ambulance and I woke up with them above me. But now there getting worse and worse and closer and closer together. Right now I feel like a zombie with all pain from not just the migraines but seizers too.. Been to the hospital multiple times they just give me pain meds that don’t work and send me home saying everything is fine! Everything is not fine I need to know what’s wrong with me and how to fix it cause all this is doing is adding more stress to my life which that’s the last thing I need!

  • Kerbi Hansen
    7 years ago

    Yeah I know girl got an appt. on the 4th and will go from there

  • Morgan Taylor
    7 years ago

    Call a neurologist kerbi he’s the only one that will be able to help. But be ready for the bills

  • Shirley Houston
    7 years ago

    so sorry to hear about your health problems!! Will be praying you get some answers!!!

  • Tammy Teague
    7 years ago

    Interesting, I wondered if the two were related!

  • Christopher Hicks
    7 years ago

    Interesting. I have, on and off, over the years experienced a kind of deja vu / seizure as warning that a migraine might be on its way. In conducting a little research on my own the symptoms (intense deja vu and a sense of uncomfortable “rising” in the stomach as well as a feeling of warmth and flush) they all seem to fall under temporal lob epilepsy. I would, by no means, put my level of symptoms as significant or severe. But, a migraine almost always follows these “episodes”. When I told me neurologist he prescribed low dose aspirin once daily. Definitely did NOT diagnosis with epilepsy. All I know is that there is definitely some kind of link between these symptoms / episodes and my migraines.

  • MigraineMe
    7 years ago

    I take topiramate to prevent migraines. I haven’t had a seizure, but I did have stroke-like symptoms last fall that were caused from my migraines and they termed my migraines as “hemiplegic.” Because of the “hemiplegic” aspet, I take the topiramate to prevent the migraines and future stroke-like symptoms and I am no longer able to take the triptans when I get migraines for fear that the triptans can cause another hemiplegic stroke or seizure.

  • Maureen Gallagher
    7 years ago

    Very interesting read. I have suffered migraines since I was 2 and last year I had a seizure but it was due to not taking anxiety medicine. However, I do have family members that suffer from seizures and epilepsy. This explains a lot of my family medical history.

  • Diahanna Stahl McLaughlin
    7 years ago

    Read this! Thanks for sharing!

  • Teresa Tindal
    7 years ago

    my migraines are frequently accompanied by an awful non-existent smell which smells like burning feathers or car-exhaust. Phantom smells are caused by a seizure disorder and anti-epileptic drugs make the smell go away.

  • Georgia Slesinger
    7 years ago

    Just keep in mind that those anti-seizure drugs he mentions have a little side effect called blindness caused by sudden-onset narrow-angled glaucoma:(

  • Amy Lynn Hunt
    7 years ago

    I have always said that they have to be “cousins” at least. (seizures and migraines) I seem to have grown out of grand mals and into migraines, and wow do many aspects of them feel alike. So good to see this article! (No one believes me unless someone else says it too :)).

  • Chris Ellis
    7 years ago

    I am greatful to my friend that linked me to this page. I just started suffering seizures with migranes recently for about 6 months or so now, tomorrow I start my journey to philly to a specialist about migranes and seizures where they will be doing alot of testings.

  • Migraine.com
    7 years ago

    Chris-We’re so happy to hear you’re going to see a specialist! Best of luck and please let us know how it the appointment goes.

  • Chitiaka Henry
    7 years ago

    I thought this was rather interesting. My mother has migraines. I have, at different points, had migraines and stress seizures. My daughter has seizures, though she is growing out of them. I asked my daughter’s neurologist could there be a link, given they’re both neurological processes that go haywire. I was told by the neurologist no, but this suggests that yes, it may be something genetic…or at least something with the way our bodies process all the chemicals in the brain.

  • Chitiaka Henry
    7 years ago

    Amy Lynn Hunt , I am finding you are correct about neurologists. I have been voicing concerns I have about my daughter for 6 months now, and the concerns are bad enough that even her father is finally admitting that something is up (though he is scared to find out what and isn’t wanting her tested yet). All her neurologist has said thus far is “It’s not autism. She’s too social for autism.” Great, there are high-functioning forms of autism spectrum disorders that it could be along with several genetic disorders, some of which are different diagnosis from ASD by the DSM. I am praying for the best, but expecting a fight at the next appointment. And I have decided that if I don’t feel listened to this time, we’re switching doctors for her. BTW, there is also a link between seizures and autism disorders; I’ve read in many places that it’s not uncommon for a child with one to go on to develop the other now (generally the pattern I’ve seen mentioned is seizures, outgrow the seizures, then the autistic spectrum disorder).

  • Amy Lynn Hunt
    7 years ago

    Chitiaka, sadly, i think neurologists can be some of the most closed-minded in the medical field. I don’t even have one any more, my family doc treats my migraines. We have to make them believe us and give us the help that we so desperately need. I absolutely believe there is a link!!

  • Becca Lumbert
    7 years ago

    Strange, my sister is diagnosed with seizures, and I am the one that gets moderate/severe migraines. She has never complained of a migraine.

  • Amy Lynn Hunt
    7 years ago

    That is me and my brother, with the exception that i did have 2 grand mal seizures, one in 1988 and one in 1991. Then migraines hit. So strange but hopefully will lead to more research that will help all of us!

  • Karen Klein Crow
    7 years ago

    When my migraine activity was at it’s highest point a few years ago, I also developed what my neurologist thought was epilepsy, but it turned out to be (as diagnosed by an epileptologist) Non-Epileptic Seizures. They were mimicing absence seizures, and at the time, not only was the migraine activity at its highest, but so were my stress levels and depression. As the stress levels and depression (coupled with migraine activity) decreased, so did the NES’s…to a point where the last time I had one was after a car accident in 2009, when in a matter of half an hour, I had had 3 separate episodes.

  • Cat Stormont
    7 years ago

    Only one of my doctors ever linked my migraines with my seizures when I was suffering from both but it was never fully investigated. The thought was that I was possibly suffering such a constant severe migraine that it triggered seizures even if I didn’t always experience the headache phase. Now I only have to deal with the migraines – complete with headache etc.

  • Laura Sharick-Morales
    7 years ago

    No seizures here, but have had migraines since I was about 10 or 11, pre-pubescent, but it was before doctors knew anything about migraines and they all said it was sinus. Man how I suffered!

  • Carolyn Shaw
    7 years ago

    Me too! Took sinus meds for years and was miserable. Finally, an ear, nose and throat specialist referred me to a neurologist who diagnosed me with chronic migraines. Very frustrating to go so long without a proper diagnosis and to be taking the wrong meds.

  • Debbie Kurikka
    7 years ago

    Lisa, I suffered the same thing for years… and ALWAYS came out of a seizure with such severe migraines that I would need to go to hospital to receive treatment. I am now 40, and in June 2011 underwent temporal lobe surgery where they removed a part of my brain that they believed was triggering my seizures. I have been seizure free since surgery (before surgery I was having up to 3 turns a week), and have suffered no more migraines since!

  • Lisa Maguire
    8 years ago

    I had seizures all when I was a kid and now diagnoised with front left temporal seizures and for me they do go hand in hand 🙁 I am on anti-seizure meds that keep seizures to a controllable count but there is no rythm or pattern that they take. Migraine may come first or seizure or visa versa. It is always a nightmare just anticipating if you are going to wake up with one or the other because with my seizures atleast I don’t remember but hell the migraines ARE SO PAINFUL AND make me throw up blood I am not sue which one is screwing with my head worse:( The meds ae not good either with all the side effect they can cause… always something to worry about and with no Insurance I am sort-of left to my own SCREAMING DEVICES 🙁 Peace to all who suffer <3.

  • Poll