“Silent” Migraines: They DO Exist

Confused by the title of this article? I was just as confused when I first began to realize I suffered silent migraines. I didn’t even know quite what they were until I began doing some migraine research on my own, and discovered this strange sub-type of migraine headaches, which has only recently been researched.

How Regular Migraines and “Silent” Migraines Compare

Migraines vary a lot from person to person, and each migraine sufferer can even experience various types of migraines. Most migraines follow a basic pattern like the following:

  • Prodrome phase, or the “Watch out, a migraine is coming!” phase. During prodrome, you can become more irritable, confused, or experience weird physical symptoms of sickness out of nowhere. 1 out of 4 people with migraines have this, sometimes even a full day before the migraine officially hits.
  • Aura phase, characterized by just plain weirdness going on in your senses. You may see flashes of color or lightning-bolt patterns zigzagging across your vision; you might hear random high pitches or strange noises that aren’t in the actual environment. You might even have some problems with speaking or writing, though not as pronounced as stroke victims. 1 in 5 people with migraines have this, and it usually lasts about an hour.
  • Pain phase, also known as the “please kill me now” phase. Throbbing pain, usually on one side of your head, sometimes death-gripping a vein in your forehead and sometimes stabbing into your eye, is common. Plus, the intense head pain can trigger your stomach into nausea, and everything in your environment is either BRIGHT, LOUD, or both at once. Basically, it sidelines you from your life for however long it decides to last. (Oh, and if you didn’t take medicine during the Prodrome or Aura phase, you have to ride the Pain phase out on your own–any medicine just flat won’t work once the pain is in full swing. This is what a lot of non-migraine sufferers just don’t get. X_x)
  • Resolution phase, or “thank God it’s over.” After an event like this, you’ll be very tired and cranky for a good while, sometimes even a full day after the migraine finally decides to vacate the premises of your head.

But silent migraines are a strange sub-breed–strange in that the sufferer can experience prodrome, aura, and resolution, but never experiences pain.

Symptoms of a Silent Migraine

At first, I was overjoyed to learn that some of my migraines could in fact be silent. “You mean I can have a normal life occasionally?!” I thought. “Heck, if I didn’t have to go through all that pain, I’d be happy to live with a ‘silent migraine!'”

Well, I thought that at least until I started looking at the symptom list:

Physical Symptoms

diarrhea
nausea
vomiting
food cravings
loss of appetite
thirst
increased urination
chills
fatigue
vertigo

Emotional/Mental Symptoms

confusion
irritability
euphoria
amnesia

Aura Symptoms

wavy or jagged lines, dots, or spots in your vision
flashing lights
blind spots
cloudy/blurry vision
tunnel vision
disruptions in hearing/hearing loss
auditory hallucinations
distortions in smell or taste
numbness
pins-and-needles sensations
other unusual body sensations
difficulty remembering or saying a word
other language difficulties

Sources for this table: WebMD.com; Migraine.com

When I read this list, I was shocked: so many of the conditions I have had to become accustomed to experiencing, either with head pain or without, are all over this list. The most random food cravings or complete loss of appetite, with no stomach disturbance apparent; difficulty remembering words, so rampant that I thought something was wrong with me mentally; pins-and-needles feelings all over my body, for no reason. Most if not all of these symptoms precede my head pain, but even when they don’t, I end up absolutely exhausted afterwards, just like I’ve had a migraine.

It’s almost easier to have the head pain than not have it, in some ways, because these symptoms by themselves don’t make much sense. Saying “I have a migraine” is at least understandable to most folks, even if they have the blissful ignorance of never experiencing migraines for themselves. But saying “Hey, I have a migraine–well, sorta, kinda–well, actually, I’m not having a headache per se, but I have all the other symptoms…yeah…?” Not only is it a headache to try to explain, but it sounds suspiciously like a cop-out excuse. Let me assure you, it is NOT.

Why Are Silent Migraines “Silent?”

People have thought for years that migraines were just the result of blood flow being squeezed off to one part of the brain–that the sudden contraction of a vein, followed by the normal amount of blood trying to stuff itself through the resulting bottleneck, creates the pain. Blood gridlock, in other words.

However, now some new research involving fMRI (functional MRI) machines has uncovered a neurological component to migraines. Basically, the nerve cells in various bits of the brain get WAY overstimulated right before a migraine event, and then sink WAY down in activity. The neighboring blood vessels swell up, or dilate, to deliver more blood to the overstimulated nerve cells–and a migraine is born.

This heightened nerve activity is what causes all the weird visual, auditory, and sensory hallucinations present in a classic migraine’s Aura phase. But sometimes, apparently, the heightened nerve activity happens, but doesn’t trigger the blood vessels to dilate…which results in a silent migraine. The brain is still just as bothered and irritable as it would be during a regular migraine, but there’s no physical blood-vessel pain to go with it.

A Silent Migraine By Any Other Name is Just as Weird

Silent migraines can pop up in anyone’s brain, no matter if you’ve had regular painful migraines or not. Silent migraines are also called:

  • Acephalgic migraine
  • Isolated visual migraine
  • Amigranous migraine
  • Late-onset migraine accompaniment (for people over 40 who suddenly get their first migraine aura symptoms)
  • Migraine dissocie (French for a “migraine disassociated” from pain)
  • Migraine equivalent/migraine variant
  • Typical aura without headache

Sources for this list: Migraine.com; Headaches.About.com

(Note: Ocular migraine is often a painless migraine with weird visual symptoms, but nothing auditory or sensory. Silent migraines run the gamut of physical symptoms of migraine, just without the pain.)

Whatever you want to call it. it’s just plain weird. And it could be occurring in your own head a lot more often than you realize, especially if any or all of those symptoms in the above list seem familiar.

How to Treat a Silent Migraine

As I did research for this very article, I began to wonder if I wasn’t walking around with a constant silent migraine, which occasionally morphed into its bigger badder sibling when I wasn’t looking. I had about grown used to walking around feeling like gum scraped off somebody’s shoe–but what if there was a way to stop it?

First of all, I suggest that if you’re experiencing anything like these symptoms, with head pain or without, you need to get checked out by a doctor. Occasionally, these symptoms can warn of more serious things like trans-ischemic attacks (aka “mini-strokes”) or epileptic seizures.

However, if you’ve gotten checked and the doctor tells you it’s migraines, silent or otherwise, then here are some of the best treatments:

  • Take your prescribed medication as quick as you can. Remember what I said about medicine not working if you take it too late in the Pain phase? Yeah.
  • Be careful what medication you take. My migraines are made worse by caffeine, for instance, so I have to avoid medicine that includes caffeine in its pill, like Excedrin Migraine or Bayer Migraine. Finding a med that works for your personal migraines is about 50/50 trial/error and luck.
  • Get to a quiet, restful place with dim or no lighting, and lie down if possible.
  • If you can stand the noise and light, turn on some light entertainment to take your mind off the pain. Most people suggest absolutely dark and silent rooms, but I find that I go absolutely bonkers with boredom, lying there with only my pain to focus on till either the medication works or I drift off to fitful sleep. Thus, I usually choose a favorite comedy DVD, turn the volume a little lower than normal, and shut my eyes to listen to it. The laughter helps, as long as you don’t laugh so hard that you make your head hurt worse!
  • Most people say their migraines are helped by sleep; if you feel like you could drift right off, go ahead. Just make sure that your neck is not in a weird position, otherwise, you could end up with a nasty tension headache moving in where your migraine left off. (Speaking from experience here…ugh.)
  • When your migraine is over, do your best to get some good rest, eat well (especially if nausea left you without an appetite before), and de-stress. Lack of sleep and food plus excess stress pretty much equals a migraine. This can be very difficult to achieve in this day and time, but if you don’t want to be sidelined for days with a migraine, it might be worth it to try these tips.

I find, generally, that my silent migraine symptoms are a little less in intensity than my painful migraine symptoms. Nevertheless, these symptoms are nothing to play around with. If you can get those little nerve cells to quit misbehaving a little sooner, you’ll feel much better; the above treatments, which are usually for “classic” migraines, actually do work for silent ones too!

For Further Information

Silent Migraine @ Migraine.com
What Are Silent Migraines? @ WebMD.com
What is a Silent Migraine? @ Headaches.about.com
Acephalgic Migraine @ Wikipedia

One thought on ““Silent” Migraines: They DO Exist”

  1. Coming up on 65 I’ve suffered ‘classic’ migraines since the age of 15, which began shortly after a car accident. Some of the weird symptoms you mention started in 2012 making life miserable approximately 1 out of every 3 days. The symptoms include:
    intense malaise (body & mental weakness)
    little to no pain
    feeling unwell; mild nausea
    left side of face puffy & numb
    often very tired after good night’s sleep
    5 to 16 hrs; no remedy
    slight breathlessness w/ minor exertion
    Neither the medical or holistic community has been able to provide a solution, MRI’s, ekg’s, notwithstanding. So, like you, I did my own research and discovered ‘silent migraine’. Looking into it further, and this is why I’m writing, I came across a web page (http://www.relieve-migraine-headache.com/migrelief.html) about a combo of supplements that studies have shown to be effective for reducing the number and severity of migraines. I’ve just ordered 3 months supply in the hope that it will prove to be my salvation.
    Feel free to write me as a follow-up on how well it works.

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