How is migraine headache characterized?

Updated: Oct 21, 2019
  • Author: Jasvinder Chawla, MD, MBA; Chief Editor: Helmi L Lutsep, MD  more...
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Answer

Migraine is characterized most often by unilateral head pain that is moderate to severe, throbbing, and aggravated by activity. It may also be associated with various visual or sensory symptoms, which occur most often before the headache component but which may occur during or after the headache; these are collectively known as an aura. Most commonly, the aura consists of visual manifestations, such as scotomas, photophobia, or visual scintillations (eg, bright zigzag lines) (see Presentation).

The head pain may also be associated with weakness. This form of migraine is termed hemiplegic migraine.

In practice, however, migraine headaches may be unilateral or bilateral and may occur with or without an aura. In the current International Headache Society categorization, the headache previously described as classic migraine is now known as migraine with aura, and the headache that was described as common migraine is now termed migraine without aura. Migraines without aura are the most common, accounting for more than 80% of all migraines.


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