Some people develop migraine episodes that don’t cause pain. These are often called “silent migraine.” Even though they don’t cause physical pain, silent migraine may trigger other symptoms that can be debilitating.

If you get migraine, you may know how painful the condition can be. For many people, the symptoms of a typical migraine include sharp pain that may not subside for hours. But for others, the condition may have different symptoms.

Read on to learn more.

Classic migraine may be accompanied by symptoms other than a headache. Some people experience visual disturbances and sensory symptoms known as “aura” before pain hits.

According to the American Migraine Association, aura symptoms are often progressive and usually end once your headache begins, although they may remain until your headache is gone. Aura symptoms may include:

  • blurry vision
  • light sensitivity
  • vision loss
  • seeing zigzags or
    squiggly lines
  • numbness
  • tingling
  • weakness
  • confusion
  • difficulty
  • dizziness
  • diarrhea
  • vomiting
  • abdominal pain

Silent migraine occurs when you have aura symptoms without a headache. They typically last from a few minutes up to an hour. Some people have chronic migraine that lasts for days, weeks, or months, but this isn’t typical for silent migraine.

Because migraine is usually associated with significant pain, silent migraine may seem like a paradox. They’re thought to have a genetic cause, but it’s unclear exactly why they occur. Migraine may be caused by the brain’s difficulty adjusting to sensory stimulation such as lights and noise. Changes in chemicals and blood vessels in the brain may also be factors.

Over time, most people figure out what triggers their migraine. The triggers may be environmental, related to food, or physiological. There are hundreds of potential migraine triggers, such as:

  • odors
  • noises
  • bright lights
  • fermented foods
  • caffeinated
  • alcohol
  • barometric
  • chemical preservatives,
    colorings, and flavorings
  • stress
  • hunger
  • exercise
  • pain
  • eye strain
  • neck problems
  • sinus problems
  • too much sleep
  • too little sleep
  • menstruation and other
    hormonal changes

Some medications may also cause migraine such as oral contraceptives and medications that open the blood vessels, or vasodilators.

Your migraine risk, silent or otherwise, is higher if you:

  • have a family
    history of migraine
  • are under age 40
  • are a woman
  • are menstruating,
    pregnant, or going through menopause

Aura symptoms may mimic symptoms of other serious conditions such as ministrokes, strokes, and meningitis. For this reason, you shouldn’t self-diagnose a silent migraine. If you experience signs of aura for the first time, contact your doctor so that you can get a diagnosis.

Your doctor may be able to diagnose silent migraine based on your family history and a physical exam. If the symptoms are severe or new, they may order tests such as:

  • blood tests
  • CT scans
  • MRI scans
  • a spinal tap

If your migraine is infrequent, short in duration, and not severe, you may not need treatment. If they often happen and impact your ability to perform daily tasks or enjoy life, you should consider treatment options.

There’s no cure for migraine, but medication can help control symptoms. Treatments for silent migraine are the same as those for migraine with headaches.

Over-the-counter medications, such as the following, may help treat the symptoms of acute migraine:

  • aspirin
  • ibuprofen
  • naproxen
  • acetaminophen

Though caffeine may be a migraine trigger, it may also help ease acute migraine symptoms. Some people find drinking a cup of coffee or taking an Excedrin Migraine, which contains caffeine, helps. If you get silent migraine accompanied by nausea and vomiting, your doctor may prescribe antinausea medications.

If you experience migraine often, you may be advised to take preventive medications. These include cardiovascular drugs such as beta-blockers, including propranolol and metoprolol. Calcium channel blockers, such as verapamil and diltiazem, are other options. Your doctor may also prescribe tricyclic antidepressants, such as amitriptyline or nortriptyline.

Some prescription migraine treatments have side effects. For this reason, some people try alternative treatments before prescription drugs. Alternative options may include:

  • biofeedback
  • massage therapy
  • behavioral
  • acupuncture

These treatments are often effective in easing stress, which can be a migraine trigger. They may also relieve acute episodes.

Read more: Using aromatherapy to relieve migraine pain »

Your first step in preventing silent migraine is to identify your triggers. To do this, keep a migraine diary and write down when each migraine occurred, how long it lasted, and what you were doing before and when it struck. Be sure to note any foods or beverages you consumed, as well as any medications you took before the migraine began.

Once you’ve identified your triggers, you should avoid them. This may mean modifying your diet or avoiding noisy social situations.

If stress is a trigger for you, try practicing stress management techniques such as writing in a journal, meditating, or doing exercises such as yoga.

Take these steps to get on a regular sleep schedule and prevent insomnia:

  • Go to bed at the
    same time each night.
  • Avoid caffeine
    and other stimulants.
  • Keep your bedroom
    cool and dark at night.
  • Consider
    investing in a fan or white noise machine to block out noises that may keep you

If you’re a smoker and get migraine, you should try to quit. A study published in Neurology found an increased risk of stroke in older smokers who have migraine.

Read more: Using aromatherapy to relieve migraine pain »

Silent migraine varies in how much they impact day-to-day life. Some people may experience them rarely, in short duration, and with few symptoms. Others experience them daily with severe symptoms. Since silent migraine doesn’t cause pain, you may experience aura symptoms without realizing you’re having a migraine. Some people dismiss the symptoms as eyestrain or stress.

If you have silent migraine and suddenly develop a terrible headache, confusion, weakness, or other aura symptoms that aren’t normal for you, get emergency medical help to rule out a stroke or other neurological condition. You shouldn’t assume you’re having a classic migraine.

Since the symptoms may not be obvious, silent migraine may be underreported and undermanaged. Contact your doctor if you think you have silent migraine. Once you receive a diagnosis, you can review treatment options and begin to make lifestyle changes to manage triggers.

Talking with others who understand what you’re going through can also help you better identify and manage silent migraine. Our free app, Migraine Healthline, connects you with real people who experience migraine. Ask questions, seek advice, and make connections with others who get it. Download the app for iPhone or Android.