Glossary of Migraine Terms

Reviewed by: HU Medical Review Board

Migraine is a chronic condition that varies from person to person. It can be helpful to know key terms about migraine so that you can treat symptoms. Here are some commonly used terms in the migraine community.


Abdominal migraine

A type of migraine often experienced by young children. Symptoms include:1-3

  • Pain in the abdomen
  • Nausea
  • Vomiting

Acute treatment

A category of medicine that provides pain relief quickly within 1 to 2 hours while being well tolerated and focuses on a migraine attack. Common types of acute migraine treatments include NSAIDs, triptans, and gepants. There are also non-invasive devices that have an indication as an acute migraine treatment.1


A common symptom of migraine. Allodynia is pain from stimuli you would not usually expect to cause pain. For example you might feel pain from:1,2

  • Brushing your hair
  • Something moving across your skin
  • Temperature changes

Anti-CGRP treatments

Treatments used to prevent migraine by stopping pain signals from CGRP also known as calcitonin gene related peptide, a protein involved in the pathophysiology of migraine.1


Antiseizure drugs often used for migraine prevention. Examples include:3

  • Valproic acid (Depakene®)
  • Divalproex sodium (Epival®)
  • Topiramate (Topamax®)


Medicine used to reduce nausea and vomiting. Some medicines can also benefit treating the headache pain itself too.2


Temporary or long-term difficulty in a person’s ability to understand or communicate effectively.2


Difficulty performing activities such as speaking.2


A constant feeling of body imbalance or incoordination.2


A temporary sensory disturbance that occurs either prior to a headache or during. Common auras include seeing spots or visual obscurations and having difficulty speaking.1,3

Autonomic nasal dysfunction

Nasal congestion that cannot be diagnosed as:2

  • A cold virus
  • A sinus infection
  • Allergies


Brain fog

A symptom of migraine commonly experienced between attacks. It may include:1,2

  • Forgetfulness
  • Lack of focus
  • Inability to complete simple tasks


Calcitonin gene-related peptide (CGRP)

A protein that produces pain signals related to migraine when it attaches to its receptor.1


A medical term used to describe pain in the head or headache.3

Chronic migraine

This includes moderate to severe head pain, nausea, and sensitivity to light and sound. A person with chronic migraine has headache occurring on 15 or more days/month for more than 3 months, which, on at least 8 days/month, has the features of migraine headache.1,2,4

Cluster headache

A type of headache with severe head pain that occurs in clusters lasting 15 to 180 minutes. Pain is often felt around the eye. Common treatments include oxygen and verapamil.1,3

Complementary and integrative treatments

Therapies that work with conventional medicinal treatments for migraine relief. Examples include acupuncture, vitamins, and nutraceuticals. Also referred to as alternative treatments.1

Cyclic vomiting syndrome

A disorder where a person experiences recurrent attacks of nausea and vomiting, often in the late night to early morning.2



A type of abortive migraine treatment that works with brain receptors to prevent the release of CGRP. Ditans do not constrict the blood vessels.1


Episodic migraine

A migraine diagnosis where a person feels less than 15 headache days per month.2



An abortive migraine treatment that can be taken as a pill, tablet, or nasal spray. Gepants bind to receptors to directly block CGRP, a peptide involved in migraine pathophysiology.1


Hemiplegic migraine

A type of migraine that causes weakness to 1 side of the body. Symptoms such as headache and aura may also occur.1


Ice Pick Headache

Also called primary stabbing headache, this is a short-lived headache where it feels as if an ice pick is stabbing your head for 5 to 30 seconds. You may feel pain in the orbit, temple, or parietal of the head.1,4

Interictal state

The period between migraine attacks when headache is not present. You may still feel unwell and experience psychological, sensory, and gastrointestinal symptoms.1


Medication overuse headache

Head pain from constant use of pain medicines.1-3

Menstrual migraine

A type of migraine that occurs right before or during the menstrual cycle, when estrogen levels are lowest. Attacks can be more debilitating compared to other migraines.1,3


A neurological disease, often with recurring head pain. Additional symptoms may include nausea and sensitivity to light and/or sound. Migraine can be spontaneous or caused by triggers such as stress or consumption of certain foods.1,3

Migraine attack

A period of migraine involving 4 different phases, each with different symptoms and durations. Not all people experience all 4 phases and each person’s attack can vary from one to the next. The phases are:1

  1. Prodrome
  2. Aura
  3. Headache
  4. Postdrome

Migraine cocktail

A treatment used for severe migraine or when the usual treatments are not effective. Cocktails are composed of multiple medicines that are specified to fit a person’s needs and medical history.1

Migraine with aura

A type of migraine that goes through the aura phase of an attack.1,3

Migraine without aura

The most common type of migraine. A person experiencing migraine without experiencing sensory disturbances before or during headache.1,3

MRI (magnetic resonance imaging)

An MRI is a medical examination where a powerful magnet produces various pictures of the body to evaluate a person’s health. MRI is a common painless test ordered when evaluating headache.3


Neurogenic bladder

Lack of bladder control resulting from problems from an injury in the brain, spinal cord or nerves.2

Neurogenic cough

A dry cough that can result from sensory nerve damage. A neurogenic cough often lasts more than 8 weeks.2

Neuromodulation devices

An alternative form of migraine treatment used to treat head pain prior to or during a migraine attack. These medical devices are non-invasive, painless, and use electrical currents or magnets to alter brain activity.1


Chemical messengers in the brain that pass information throughout the nervous system.3


OnabotulinumtoxinA (Botox®)

A neurotoxin that can be used to prevent migraine attacks. It is given through intramuscular injections administered using a treatment protocol over the face, head, neck, and shoulders to prevent muscle contractions that cause head pain.1

Oromandibular dystonia

A movement disorder that involves contractions of the face, jaw, and/or tongue causing difficulty in opening and closing the mouth. It can also affect the ability to chew and communicate effectively.2


Smell sensitivity.2


Pain in the ear.2


Pediatric migraine

A class of migraine experienced by children. Attacks are often shorter and less severe than in adult migraine. Symptoms are similar to those in adults, but abdominal pain and motion sickness are more likely with pediatric migraine.1


Sensitivity to sound.2,3


Sensitivity to light.2,3

Post-COVID headache

A constant headache resulting from having COVID-19. Migraine symptoms, primarily headaches, can last from weeks to months. Migraine attacks can also become more severe.1


The last phase of a migraine attack. Postdrome can last 1 or 2 days and is also referred to as a “migraine hangover.” Symptoms include:1

  • Fatigue
  • Dizziness
  • Trouble concentrating

Post-traumatic headache

A type of headache that develops after experiencing or regaining consciousness from a moderate to severe level of injury. Symptoms are similar to migraine, but can also include:1,3

  • Dizziness
  • Poor concentration
  • Memory issues
  • Mood changes


When a worker continues to work and maintain their obligations, but cannot perform their job as effectively.2


A period that usually signals the start of a migraine attack. Symptoms include neck pain, food cravings, yawning, and frequent urination. The prodrome phase can last from several hours to multiple days.1


Sinus headache

A type of headache resulting from a sinus infection. Many people confuse sinus headaches with migraine due to similar symptoms, such as pain in the face or nasal areas. But unlike migraine attacks, symptoms of a sinus headache resolve within days with proper treatment.1,3


Inflammation of the tissues within the sinuses.2

Status migrainosus

A severe migraine attack where headaches last for more than 72 hours.1,2



Healthcare that enables the delivery of virtual services such as patient care and doctor appointments without an in-person visit.1

Tension-type headache

Headaches caused by muscle tightness in the face, scalp, or back of the neck. Tension-type headaches are the most common type of headache. Triggers can include stress. These headaches are accompanied by pain in the neck and shoulders.3


The feeling that you are hearing noise that does not actually exist such as ringing or buzzing in the ear. This can be as a result of hearing loss, head injury, or diseases such as migraine.2


When muscles in the neck are stiff and force the head to twist and remain on 1 side.2

Trigeminal nerve

The cranial nerve most studied and involved in contributing to migraine. The trigeminal nerve relays sensations from the face to the brain.2


Triggers are the factors that can contribute to a migraine. Triggers can be different for every person. The most common triggers include stress, hormonal changes, or changes in usual routines such as diet or sleep.1,3


A class of drugs used for migraine treatment. Triptans bind to serotonin receptors and help relieve pain by tightening blood vessels throughout the body. There are many different formulations including tablets, injections, and nasal sprays.1



A decrease in blood vessel size.3


An increase in blood vessel size.3


Experiencing movement, spinning, or feeling off balance.2

Vestibular migraine

A type of migraine where you experience vertigo symptoms such as feeling movement while remaining still. Headaches may also occur.1,4

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