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Conditions A-Z - Vascular Headaches and Migraines

What are vascular headaches?

Vascular headaches, a group that includes migraines, are thought to involve abnormal function of the brain's blood vessels or vascular system.

What are migraine headaches?

The most common type of vascular headache is migraine - headaches that are usually characterized by the following:

  • severe pain on one or both sides of the head
  • nausea and/or vomiting
  • disturbed vision and intolerance to light

The symptoms of migraine headaches may resemble other conditions or medical problems. Always consult your physician for a diagnosis.

What are the most common types of migraines?

The two most common types of migraines are "classic" migraines and "common" migraines:

  • classic migraines - a type of migraine that involves the appearance of neurological symptoms, called an aura (flashing lights or zigzag lines, or temporary loss of vision) 10 to 30 minutes before an attack. Other classic migraine symptoms may include the following:
    • difficulty with speech
    • weakness of an arm or leg
    • tingling of the face or hands
    • confusion

    Pain associated with classic migraines may be described as:
    • intense, throbbing, or pounding felt in the forehead, temple, ear, jaw, or around the eye.
    • starting on one side of the head, but may spread to the other side.

    An attack may last one or two days.

  • common migraine - a type of migraine that is generally not preceded by an aura, although there may be a variety of symptoms prior to its onset. These may include the following:
    • mental "fuzziness"
    • mood changes
    • fatigue
    • unusual retention of fluids
    • diarrhea and increased urination
    • nausea and vomiting

    Common migraine pain may last three or four days.

What are other types of migraines?

The following are other types of migraines:

  • hemiplegic migraine - symptoms include temporary paralysis on one side of the body (hemiplegia), vision problems, and vertigo, which begin 10 to 90 minutes before the onset of headache pain.
  • ophthalmoplegic migraine - symptoms include pain around the eye, sometimes with a droopy eyelid, double vision, and other sight problems.
  • basilar artery migraine - involving a disturbance of a major brain artery, this type occurs most often in adolescent and young adult women, and is often associated with a woman's menstrual cycle. Pre-headache symptoms may include the following:
    • vertigo
    • double vision
    • poor muscular coordination
  • benign exertional headache - brought on by running, lifting, coughing, sneezing, or bending, this headache begins at the onset of activity, with pain rarely lasting for more than several minutes.
  • status migrainosus - a rare and severe type of migraine that can last 72 hours or longer. Pain and nausea with this headache are often so intense that hospitalization may be necessary.
  • headache-free migraine - a condition that has no head pain, but has other migraine symptoms, such as visual problems, nausea, vomiting, constipation, or diarrhea.

What are other types of vascular headaches?

The second most common type of vascular headache is a toxic headache. Toxic headaches are often produced by a fever that comes with conditions such as pneumonia, measles, mumps, and tonsillitis, as well as the presence of foreign chemicals in the body.

Other kinds of vascular headaches include cluster headaches and headaches caused by a rise in blood pressure.

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