Understanding Migraines

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What are migraine headaches?

Migraine headaches are the most common form of a vascular headache, which is an abnormal function of the brain’s blood vessels (UVA Health, 2004). There are several different types of migraines that have different symptoms associated with them. Examples of migraines include:

Classic Migraines: Classic Migraines are one of the most common types of migraines. They involve an aura 10-30 minutes before the migraine. Auras can consist of flashing lights, seeing zig-zag lines, or even temporary vision loss. Symptoms that may be associated with the Classic Migraine include throbbing or pounding felt in the forehead, temple, or jaw; difficulty with speech; weakness of an arm or leg; and confusion. A Classic Migraine attack could last up to 2 days.

Common Migraines: Common Migraines are another of the most common types of migraines. They differ from Classic Migraines because an aura does not precede the attack. However these symptoms may occur prior to the migraine: mental vagueness, mood changes, fatigue, retention of fluids, diarrhea and increased urination, and nausea and vomiting. Common Migraines may last up to 4 days.

Hemiplegic Migraines: Hemiplegic Migraines include symptoms such as temporary paralysis on one side of the body, vision deficits, and vertigo, which occur 10 – 90 minutes prior to the start of the Migraine.

Ophthal Moplegic: Ophthal Moplegic Migraines include vision problems, such as double vision.

Basilar Artery Migraines: Basilar Artery Migraines are characterized by a disturbance of a major brain artery. Symptoms may include vertigo, poor muscle coordination, and double vision.

Benign Exertional Headache: Benign External Headaches are migraines that are brought on by running, lifting, sneezing, or bending. The headache normally subsides after several minutes.

Status Migrainosus: Status Migrainosus is a severe migraine that can last 72 hours or longer and often results in hospitalization.

Headache-free Migraine: Headache-free Migraines are characterized by symptoms such as visual problems, nausea and vomiting, and constipation or diarrhea, but consist of no head pain (UVA Health, 2004).

What causes migraine headaches?

No one knows for certain what causes Migraine Headaches. Some doctors believe that they are due to changes in brain chemistry, which causes blood vessel dilation and inflammation. Research has shown that almost all individuals with migraines have a close relative who also has migraines (Mayo Clinic, 2005).

Although the direct cause of migraines is unknown, they are often a result of controllable and uncontrollable triggers. Examples of controllable triggers include lighting, smells, smoke, noise, disrupt in sleep patterns, and certain foods. Examples of uncontrollable triggers are weather, air pressure, and menstrual cycles. Often, when addressing accommodations it is important to talk with the employee about the triggers associated with the onset of the headache (Fackelmann, 2005).


The above is an excerpt from the article, “Accommodation and Compliance Series: Employees with Migraine Headaches.” For more information please visit www.askjan.org.

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