August 18, 2023

What is an Atypical Migraine?

Migraine headaches are a very common condition that affects up to 1 in 5 people. They can range from mild to severe, pulsating headache pain on one side of the head, to other symptoms such as sensitivity to light and sound, nausea and vomiting.

Atypical migraine is a term used to describe a headache that doesn't include all the phases present in a typical migraine. Instead, atypical migraines skip the aura phase which can include symptoms like blind spots or tingling in your extremities and begins abruptly with head pain.

While atypical migraines are more common than traditional migraines, they can still be very challenging to diagnose. This is because they are often mistaken for other conditions such as stroke and transient ischemic attack (TIA). A patient presenting with these symptoms in primary care will need to be carefully assessed in hospital to exclude these neurological causes of symptoms.

Patients with a history of chronic migraine with aura who present with new atypical symptoms will also require careful assessment. This is particularly important if the new symptoms are related to dizziness and balance problems as this must be separated from true inner ear disorders such as benign paroxysmal positional vertigo and viral vestibular neuronitis. The best way to assess these patients is through detailed medical history, a thorough physical examination and careful logging of the current symptoms. This will allow physicians to make the correct diagnosis. In addition, the patient and physician can then work together to devise an individualized treatment plan that maximizes symptom relief and minimizes side effects.


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