What Is an Atypical Migraine?

Approximately 28 million Americans experience classic, or typical, migraines. Typical migraines include four phases that occur in the following order:

  1. prodrome
  2. aura
  3. pain
  4. postdrome

During these phases, a variety of symptoms may occur, including:

  • mood changes
  • a radiating headache
  • nausea
  • sensitivity to light
  • sensitivity to sound

Atypical migraines don’t include all of the phases present in a typical migraine. One of those phases is aura. Atypical migraines generally skip the aura phase. This phase would typically include flashes of light, blind spots, or tingling in the extremities. Instead of aura signaling the start of a migraine, an atypical migraine abruptly begins with headache pain.

Researchers have yet to determine how many people are affected. This is likely because the term is often used to refer to a migraine that doesn’t fall into any other category. In other words, it’s a catchall term.

Read more about the symptoms, how it’s diagnosed, and what can be done about atypical migraines.

The symptoms of an atypical migraine can be similar to a textbook description of a migraine, but there also can be additional symptoms. The symptoms linked to atypical migraines can include:

  • impaired vision
  • vomiting
  • diarrhea
  • a fever
  • sinus pressure
  • vertigo

These symptoms can last anywhere from a few hours to a few days.

Due to the prolonged discomfort of an atypical migraine, it isn’t uncommon to find it difficult to work or participate in activities you normally enjoy. You may find it comforting to take a nap in a quiet, dark place until the uncomfortable symptoms pass.

Read more: Managing severe migraine side effects »

Anyone can experience an atypical migraine at any age. People who have recurrent atypical migraines may find that the migraines come and go throughout their life. As you age, your migraine may transform in quality and present with different symptoms.

On average, as a person ages they may experience an increase in symptoms such as diarrhea, vertigo, and abdominal pressure. They may also experience less headache discomfort.

Although women tend to experience atypical migraines at a higher rate, men are also affected. Atypical migraines most commonly occur in people ages 30 to 50.

Doctors don’t know why some people are more prone to atypical migraines than others. Like typical migraines, it usually runs in families and often has a trigger, such as diet or stress. Doctors have been able to help people modify their lifestyles, though, to help alleviate unwanted atypical migraine episodes.

First, your doctor will review your medical history. They’ll then review the possible factors contributing to your migraines. This may include your eating habits and other lifestyle choices. They may also ask about your work or relationships with friends and family to isolate any stressors.

They can also help to identify any environmental triggers that have the potential to impact your next episode. To assist them with finding answers, they’ll most likely ask you to keep a detailed diary of your daily events and eating habits. This information may help unlock answers that can help them make a diagnosis.

Your doctor may also suggest that you see a dentist for jaw pain or an eye doctor for an eye exam. Sometimes, examining these issues further can help eliminate any underlying issues contributing to atypical migraine episodes.

Read more: Migraines: More than a headache »

The treatment for an atypical migraine typically includes limiting or removing contact with any triggers, immediate action at the onset of symptoms, and prescribed medications for prevention.

You should work with your doctor to create a strategy to help alleviate pain and limit the number of migraines you have.

Although atypical migraines are common, it’s best to seek an informed opinion from your doctor. They can provide ways to minimize any discomfort and help you to identify factors that make you more likely to have recurring episodes. Learning what factors affect you could help you reduce how frequently you get atypical migraines.

While evaluating your health history, your doctor can also identify if your symptoms mimic the onset of other diseases or disorders. They can let you know if there are steps you need to take to treat any underlying condition.

Your doctor may suggest reevaluating your diet and eliminating or restricting your intake of certain items. This may include chocolate and soda. Both items include caffeine, which can cause headaches. They may also suggest regulating your sleeping pattern to ensure that you’re getting enough rest. The addition of a manageable exercise program may also help you relieve stress naturally.

If you’re still finding it difficult to cope with your symptoms, your doctor may prescribe medication. Although some people have found success with medications that help combat their symptoms, it’s important to be aware of the side effects. Be sure to discuss these with your doctor.

There aren’t any cure-alls for atypical migraines, but relief is still possible. The right guidance or treatment program can help you find relief.