Migraine Types

Reviewed by: HU Medical Review Board | Last reviewed: October 2020

Many people think of “migraine” as a severe headache, but a migraine is actually a common neurological disorder. In 2010, the Global Burden of Disease Survey ranked migraine the third most common disorder worldwide and seventh-highest reason for disability.1

In the 2018 Migraine In America survey, 4,356 people shared their migraine diagnosis. Chronic migraine was the most common diagnosis with over 7 in 10 reporting being diagnosed with chronic migraine by a healthcare professional. “Chronic” means the person has 15 or more headache days per month, with 8 of those headaches having migraine features.1

How are migraine and headache types named?

The International Headache Society has developed one of the most well-known systems for naming migraine and headache types. This system is called the International Classification of Headache Disorders (ICHD).

Two main types of migraine

The International Headache Society names 2 main types of migraine, and each has several subtypes. Migraine types are diagnosed based on the symptoms a person has. For example, a migraine that only causes stomach pain is called abdominal migraine. A migraine that causes head pain plus visual or auditory hallucinations is called a migraine with aura. The 2 main types are:1

People living with migraine can have both main migraine types and different subtypes over the years. Any type of migraine can be “chronic,” meaning the person has 15 or more of any type of headache per month for 3 months, with at least 8 of those being migraine attacks.1

Migraine without aura and its subtypes

Migraine without aura means the person has throbbing head pain, usually on 1 side of the head, for 4 to 72 hours. Nausea and sensitivity to light and sound are the other most common symptoms. Roughly 3 out of 4 people with migraine have migraine without aura. The pain is often moderate to severe and gets worse with movement.1,2

Migraine without aura may also be called common migraine. Migraine without aura does not come with the warning stages called prodrome and aura.3

Common subtypes of migraine without aura include:1-3

  • Chronic migraine, meaning the person has frequent migraine attacks
  • Migraine triggered by menstruation, which is sometimes called menstrual migraine

Migraine with aura

One out of 4 people with migraine also have aura. Aura refers to the many neurological symptoms that come with the classic severe head pain of migraine. These symptoms may include changes to sight, hearing, smell, and touch. Speech and movement may also be affected. Aura usually lasts 10 to 30 minutes and starts just before or during the headache phase of a migraine.2

Migraine with aura may also be called classic or complicated migraine. Subtypes of migraine with aura include:1,2

Complications of migraine

Sometimes, a migraine may be described by a side effect that it causes. These subtypes are known as:1

  • Abdominal migraine
  • Cyclic vomiting syndrome
  • Recurring gastrointestinal disturbance
  • Status migrainosus
  • Persistent aura without infarction
  • Migrainous infarction
  • Migraine aura-triggered seizure
  • Benign paroxysmal vertigo
  • Benign paroxysmal torticollis

Some doctors may still use the following names for migraine. These are not official names used by the International Headache Society but describe the main symptoms or triggers of the person’s migraine, including:

Keeping a migraine journal

Because migraine is diagnosed based on symptoms, it is a good practice to make a note of each attack. A migraine journal can be kept on paper, on a computer, or your phone.

Recording your symptoms and their intensity, and the date, time, and how long each attack lasts can help you and your doctor spot trends and triggers. A journal may also help you and your doctor find which treatments work best for you, or ones that are no longer working.

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