Weird Migraine Triggers, Symptoms, and Types


When you think of migraines, head pain probably comes to mind. But a migraine can feel like weakness, dizziness, or a stomachache, too.

Migraine can affect different parts of your nervous system — and it can show up in some surprising ways and from some unusual triggers.

Most migraine headaches typically fall into one of two main types: with or without aura.

Those without aura are the most common. But there are other types, too, and their symptoms may not be what you expect.

Hemiplegic Migraine

Does your head pain come with a bonus of weak arms and legs? You could be dealing with a rare type of migraine called hemiplegic migraine.

“It’s not feeling like your limbs are heavy because they’re numb, or feeling clumsy — that’s common with migraine. You actually are weak,” says Robert Kaniecki, MD, director of the UPMC Headache Center in Pittsburgh.

You may have problems moving one side of your body, or you may even have a droop in your face.

Although this may make you worry you’re having a stroke, the head pain is the key. The combination of both headache and weakness points to a hemiplegic migraine.

Vestibular Migraine

If you’re off-balance and feel like you might throw up when your head throbs, you could be having a vestibular migraine. You might even have these symptoms without a headache.

“Vestibular migraine can present with (dizzy) episodes or continuous dizziness, which can feel like you are moving or on a boat,” says Deena Kuruvilla, MD, medical director of the Westport Headache Institute in Connecticut.

You’re more likely to get vestibular migraines if you’ve dealt with car sickness your whole life.

Retinal (Ocular) Migraine

Brief vision loss, along with seeing flashing lights, can be a symptom of a retinal migraine.

Although losing your vision from a migraine can be scary, it typically only lasts about 10 to 20 minutes. And it usually only affects one eye.

Retinal migraines are different from migraines with aura, which can make you see flashing lights or zigzag lines in both eyes.

Abdominal Migraine

Stomach pain or soreness paired with nausea and vomiting can signal a type of migraine mostly seen in children younger than 12.

Even though a headache isn’t a part of the picture, doctors still put it in the migraine column.

Abdominal migraines as a child can turn into true migraines later in life.

“They start off with these variants and then that variant goes away and they turn into a more typical migraine headache rather than belly pain,” Kaniecki says.

Other kinds of migraine variants in kids that tend to turn into typical migraines later include cyclic vomiting (a type of migraine that causes — you guessed it — many rounds of vomiting) and paroxysmal torticollis (a rare disorder in infants that causes head tilting).

Common Migraine Triggers

The most common culprits that can kick off migraines include:

  • Stress
  • Lack of sleep
  • Changes in hormones
  • Changes in weather
  • Diet (caffeine, alcohol, certain foods, or not getting enough water)
  • Light
  • Certain smells
  • Taking too much headache medication

But these familiar triggers just scratch the surface. Depending on the type of migraines you get — and your body’s unique makeup — your triggers could look much different.

Surprising Migraine Triggers

These unusual migraine-starters could be setting yours off:

Sleeping in. True, if you don’t get enough sleep you could get a migraine, but if you hit snooze and sleep the day away you might also get one.

“It makes other dominoes fall,” Kaniecki says. “You delay things like your morning calories and caffeine.”

Being glued to a screen. Too much time in front of a computer, TV, or smartphone can trigger a migraine, and Kuruvilla says the pandemic has made this more common.

“Many people are working from home, and as a result their screen time between work, social media, and web surfing has gone up substantially,” she says.

Certain sounds. A sound doesn’t have to be loud to cause a migraine. Sometimes certain tones — a shrill, vibrating, or high-pitched noise, for example — can worm their way into your brain and set off an attack.

Lack of stress. Yep, that’s right — sometimes the calm after a stress storm makes you ripe for a migraine.

“It’s called stress letdown,” Kaniecki says. “It isn’t the busy week — it’s the weekend. It’s not the final — it’s after the final.”

Vaccines. Any type of shot can bring on headaches, but luckily they don’t last. And a short-lived side effect like a migraine is far less harmful than the disease or illness your vaccine will protect you from. If you’re worried about getting any vaccine, talk to your doctor.



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