A basilar migraine is one of the severest types of chronic headache disorder. It can cause debilitating head pain, hearing and vision problems, confusion, and occasionally loss of consciousness. Neurological problems appear to arise in the upper brain stem and affect the large basilar artery in the back of the brain. Basilar migraines are most common in females under the age of 30, but symptoms can potentially arise in either gender at any age. Prescription medications can help control symptoms and reduce the frequency of episodes in most patients.
Unusual vision changes called auras often precede the onset of a basilar migraine. Auras are common with many types of migraine, but the effects are especially noticeable with the basilar variety since the affected artery is so close to the brain's visual cortex. A typical aura comes on about 30 minutes to one hour before other migraine symptoms and can cause light sensitivity, dark or blurry spots in the central vision, distortion of objects, and tunnel vision. In addition, some people experience auditory hallucinations and odd smells during the aura phase.
As the true basilar migraine sets in, vision and hearing problems tend to worsen. A person may have a constant ringing in his or her ears and severe problems seeing, approaching blindness. Nausea, vomiting, throbbing head pain, and loss of balance are common. Severe migraines can cause loss of consciousness, seizures, or stroke. It is essential to seek emergency medical care if a person shows signs of a basilar migraine in order to minimize the risks of permanent brain damage or sudden death.
A neurologist can diagnose a basilar migraine by evaluating reported symptoms, asking about familial history of migraines and stroke, and performing a number of diagnostic tests. Magnetic resonance imaging scans, computerized tomography screens, and electroencephalograms are taken to look for obvious signs of neurological or vascular damage in the brain. The doctor may also perform hearing and vision tests to see if permanent damage has occurred. After ruling out seizure disorders and other types of migraines, the doctor can explain treatment options.
A patient who experiences occasional migraines may be prescribed a high-strength painkiller and muscle relaxer to take at the first signs of an aura in hopes of preventing the impending migraine. People who suffer two or more episodes a month are typically given daily medications called calcium channel blockers to help reduce the frequency. Verapamil and similar calcium channel blockers may not be able to prevent migraines altogether, but most patients do experience significantly longer symptom-free periods between attacks.