One headache, two types

If you experience migraines, you may be more interested in how to stop the intense pain caused by migraine headaches than in identifying which type of migraine you may have. However, being aware of the two types of migraines — migraines with aura and migraines without aura — will help you be better prepared to seek the right treatment.

You may think of “aura” as a new-age term, but when it comes to migraines, there’s nothing ethereal about it. It’s simply a physiological warning sign that occurs in your vision or other senses, alerting you to the onset of a migraine. However, auras can occur during or after migraine pain begins as well. According to the Cleveland Clinic, 15 to 20 percent of those with migraines experience auras.

Warning signs

Migraines with auras — which were formerly called classic migraines — commonly cause you to experience visual disturbances in conjunction with your other migraine symptoms. For example, you might see zig-zagging lines, lights that look like stars or dots, or even have a blind spot before your migraine starts. Other possible vision changes include distorted vision or temporary loss of your vision.

Other senses

Besides visual auras, some people who experience migraines with auras may find that other senses are affected. For example, auras may be related to hearing such as a ringing in your ears before a migraine begins. They also may affect your smell, such as noticing strange odors. Taste, touch, or simply sensing a “funny feeling” have also been reported as symptoms of migraines with aura. No matter which type of aura you experience, symptoms will last less than one hour.

More commonly, migraines occur without auras (previously called common migraines). According to the Cleveland Clinic, this type of migraine occurs in up to 85 percent of all who experience migraines. People with this type of migraine go through all of the other features of a migraine attack, including intense pain on one or both sides of the head, nausea, vomiting, and light or sound sensitivity.

Other signs

In some cases, migraines without auras can be accompanied by anxiety, depression, or fatigue that generally sets in several hours prior to the headache pain. In absence of an aura, some people who experience this type of migraine may have other warning signs, such as feeling thirsty or sleepy, or craving sweets. Migraines without aura can last up to 72 hours, according to the American Headache Society (AHS).

Three phases

People may go through three distinct phases of migraines without auras: prodrome, headache phase, and postdrome.

The first phase, the prodrome, is considered a “pre-headache” phase that you may experience several hours or even days before a full-fledged migraine begins. The prodrome phase may bring food cravings, mood changes, muscle stiffness, or other warning signs that a migraine is coming.

The second phase, the headache itself, can be quite debilitating, and may involve pain in the entire body.

The third phase, postdrome, may make you feel hung over or tired.

Skipped steps, double doses

Though it may sound strange, some migraines without auras can actually bypass the headache phase. When this happens, you still have a migraine without aura, but your doctor might describe your condition as “acephalgic” or “silent migraine without aura.” It’s possible to have multiple types of migraines, so talk to your doctor about your symptoms if you’re uncertain.

No matter which type of migraine you have — or if you experience more than one type — one thing is certain: Migraines are painful and best avoided by taking preventive measures. The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services reports that stress can trigger migraines, as can eating certain foods.

Reduce stress through relaxation, exercise, and proper sleep, and avoid personal food triggers, and you may be able to limit or avoid attacks of both types of migraines.