What is an Atypical Migraine?

Mary McMahon
Mary McMahon

An atypical migraine is a migraine with a set of symptoms that do not quite fit into the classic migraine profile. Patients also experience some symptoms that are not associated with traditional migraines. Diagnosing atypical migraines can be tricky because there are a number of medical issues that can cause the symptoms and it is important to rule them out before firmly determining that a patient has atypical migraine. A doctor will take time with evaluation and diagnosis to ensure that an underlying issue is not missed.

In cases of atypical migraines, a physician may prescribe a prophylactic medication to be taken before a migraine strikes.
In cases of atypical migraines, a physician may prescribe a prophylactic medication to be taken before a migraine strikes.

A patient with an atypical migraine can experience facial and abdominal pains that are sometimes very severe. Neurological symptoms like weakness along one side of the body can be observed, along with visual disturbances, and the patient may develop nausea and vomiting. However, the distinctive aura that precedes traditional migraines is not present, and the patient may not have a headache or may have a headache that is not consistent with migraine.

It is not possible to cure a patient who suffers from atypical migraines.
It is not possible to cure a patient who suffers from atypical migraines.

Especially when the headache is entirely absent, it can be difficult to determine that a patient has atypical migraine. When a patient goes to the doctor for treatment, a number of tests may be conducted to narrow down a possible diagnosis and rule out potential causes from glaucoma to bacterial infections. An extensive patient interview is also conducted and family history is collected. Clues that can help a doctor make a diagnosis more quickly include a family history of migraine, as well as a personal history. Some people who have migraines also develop atypical migraine.

It is not possible to cure a patient with atypical migraine. However, steps can be taken to address migraine attacks when they occur. Some medications can act as preventatives to decrease the incidence and severity of attacks. Specific drugs can also be prescribed to treat particular symptoms and keep the patient more comfortable. It may take several different drugs to find an effective treatment for the patient, as everyone responds differently and patients should report their responses to the medication in detail.

A neurologist is usually involved in treatment because of the neurological symptoms. Patients may initially see general practitioners, gastrointestinal specialists, and other types of physicians while they are trying to narrow down the cause for the symptoms. With a diagnosis, a patient can access support through organizations of patients and may also qualify for certain types of benefits that provide financial and personal assistance to people who experience disabling migraines.

Mary McMahon
Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a wiseGEEK researcher and writer. Mary has a liberal arts degree from Goddard College and spends her free time reading, cooking, and exploring the great outdoors.

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Discussion Comments


Nausea is the worst thing about my atypical migraines. I'm nauseated all day and I hate it. I would actually prefer migraine pain to nausea at this point.


@ZipLine-- Actually, I haven't been put on anti-depressants or vitamin B2 and I have had atypical migraines for two years now. Were you diagnosed by a neurologist?

I was diagnosed by a neurologist and I've basically been switching from one drug to another since then. All the drugs I've tried have been anti-epilepsy drugs which I think are the most common medications used for atypical migraines.

If your current treatment works for you, then great. It's very difficult to treat atypical migraine symptoms so when you find something that works, you have to stick with it.


Has anyone here been diagnosed with atypical migraines? What are you doing for treatment?

I was diagnosed with this last week. This was my third doctor visit because of the odd migraines I've been experiencing. It's actually hard to call them migraines, because sometimes I have little to no pain, mostly dizziness, numbness and nausea.

My doctor has put me on an anti-depressant and vitamin B2. I've also been told to avoid caffeine and alcohol.

Is this the usual atypical migraine treatment?

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