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There are several types of migraine, all share basic features, and each person will suffer this headache in a unique way. Generally, however, migraine often begins as a dull ache and then develops into a constant, throbbing and pulsating pain that you may feel at the temples, as well as the front or back of one side of the head. The pain is usually accompanied by nausea and vomiting, and sensitivity to light and noise.
The two most prevalent types of migraine are migraine with aura (formerly referred to as classic migraine) and migraine without aura (formerly referred to as common migraine).
Migraine without Aura
While most migraine sufferers experience visual problems during the headache, you may be someone whose migraine begins with an aura, a manifestation of neurological symptoms. Generally, the aura begins from five to thirty minutes before the actual onset of the headache. You may see wavy or jagged lines, dots or flashing lights; or, you experience tunnel vision or blind spots in one or both eyes. The aura can include vision or hearing hallucinations and disruptions in smell (such as strange odors), taste or touch. It can become even more disconcerting or frightening if it involves feelings of numbness, a "pins-and-needles" sensation or even difficulty in recalling or speaking the correct word. These neurological events may last sixty minutes and will fade as the headache begins.
If you suffer from this rare but severe type of migraine with aura, you probably also have a family history of it. The hemiplegic migraine often begins with temporary motor paralysis and/or sensory disturbances on one side of the body, followed by the headache -- within the hour -- which may be accompanied by numbness or the "pins and needles" sensation. When the headache appears, the initial neurological symptoms may disappear.
Also a rare and severe migraine, the ophthalmologic migraine’s pain usually surrounds the eyeball and lasts from a few days to a few months. There may be paralysis in the muscles surrounding the eye. If these symptoms occur, you should seek immediate medical attention because the symptoms can be caused by pressure on the nerves behind the eye.
Another rare migraine, the retinal type starts with a temporary, partial, or complete loss of vision in one eye. It is followed by a dull ache behind that eye that may spread to the rest of the head.
Basilar Artery Migraine
This very rare form of migraine is accompanied by dizziness, confusion or lack of balance. It comes on suddenly and can result in fleeting visual disturbances, the inability to speak properly, ringing in the ears, and vomiting. Throbbing occurs in the back of the head. The basilar artery migraine is strongly related to hormonal influences and primarily strikes young adult women and adolescent girls; as sufferers age, the migraine with aura may replace the basilar artery type.
It is difficult to diagnose this migraine because the pain is felt in the abdomen. Nausea, vomiting and diarrhea may occur, and the pain usually occurs in the middle of the abdomen. The attack typically lasts hours and occurs mostly in children as a forerunner of migraine.
The cluster headache was once considered a type of migraine, because it is vascular. Unfortunately, it is possible for a person to suffer from both migraines and clusters, although it is rare.
The headache is usually unilateral and rarely switches sides from one attack to another. You might feel the pain begin around one eye, "like a nail or knife stabbing or piercing" your eye, or as if someone "were pulling out" your eye; it may be accompanied by a tearing or bloodshot eye and a runny nose on the side of the headache. It can radiate from the eye to the forehead, temple and cheek on the same side. The pain of a cluster headache has been described as piercing, burning, throbbing, pulsating, and so excruciating that most victims cannot sit still and feel compelled to rock in a chair, walk back and forth, or bang their heads against something.
Women suffer migraines three times more frequently than men do; and, menstrual migraines affect 70 percent of these women. They occur before, during or immediately after the period, or during ovulation.
While it is not the only hormonal culprit, serotonin is the primary hormonal trigger in everyone's headache. Some researchers believe that migraine is an inherited disorder that somehow affects the way serotonin is metabolized in the body. But, for women, it is also the way the serotonin interacts with uniquely female hormones.
Menstrual migraines are primarily caused by estrogen, the female sex hormone that specifically regulates the menstrual cycle fluctuations throughout the cycle. When the levels of estrogen and progesterone change, women will be more vulnerable to headaches. Because oral contraceptives influence estrogen levels, women on birth control pills may experience more menstrual migraines.
The menstrual migraine's symptoms are similar to migraine without aura. It begins as a one-sided, throbbing headache accompanied by nausea, vomiting, or sensitivity to bright lights and sounds.
Pre-Menstrual Syndrome (PMS) Headaches
The PMS headache occurs before your period and is associated with a variety of symptoms that distinguish it from the typical menstrual headache. The symptoms include headache pain accompanied by fatigue, acne, joint pain, decreased urination, constipation and lack of coordination. You may also experience an increase in appetite and a craving for chocolate, salt, or alcohol.
PMS sufferers may also complain of fear, panic attacks, decreased sexual desire, impaired judgment or memory, sensitivity to rejection and even paranoia. These symptoms usually disappear when menstruation begins.
An organic headache is the result of an abnormality in the brain or skull. It can be caused by a benign or malignant brain tumor, a brain aneurysm, hematoma, meningitis, brain abscess, brain infection, cerebral hemorrhage, or encephalitis.
Fortunately, very few headaches (less than 5 percent) are caused by tumors, and not all people with tumors experience headaches. A tumor will cause a headache if it intrudes on arterial space or increases intracranial pressure. If there is a brain tumor, the headache will probably come on suddenly and intensely. It may get progressively worse and can be aggravated by coughing or physical activity.
Tune into symptoms that could be red flags: a sudden, sharp, intense or severe pain (particularly if you never or only occasionally have a headache); sudden lack of balance or falling; confusion; inappropriate behavior; seizures; difficulty speaking. If these symptoms are left undiagnosed, they can lead to serious consequences.