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Migraines and Seizures (Symptoms, Auras, Medication)

Migraine and seizure definitions, auras, symptoms, and signs

Image of a brain disintegrating.
Migraines and seizures have similar symptoms and signs.

What is a migraine?

A migraine is a type of headache with symptoms like a severe and throbbing headache on one side of the head accompanied by nausea, vomiting, dizziness, visual disturbances, numbness or tingling in the extremities or face, sensitivity to light and sound, touch and smell.

Some people with migraines experience an aura before the head pain starts. Migraine aura symptoms include visual disturbances ocular migraine), water retention, problems sleeping, appetite changes, and irritability.

Migraine headaches can be debilitating and may last between 4 and 72 hours.

What is migralepsy?

Migralepsy is an outdated term that comes from putting together the words “migraine” and “epilepsy.” Misdiagnosis between migraine and epilepsy is common because headaches that often accompany seizures (ictal headaches) can be similar to a migraine with aura.

Currently, researchers and doctors do not recognize “migralepsy” as a medical condition, but rather, an epilepsy-migraine sequence (and less likely, a migraine-epilepsy sequence).

QUESTION

Who suffers more frequently from migraine headaches? See Answer

What is an ictal headache?

An ictal headache is a rare type of headache in people with epilepsy. An ictal headache has the same pounding, throbbing feeling as a typical migraine, but usually is caused by seizure activity.

What is a seizure?

A seizure is a change in the brain’s electrical activity. Chemical changes that occur in nerve cells may cause too much or too little activity in parts of the brain, which can lead to electrical surges in the brain that cause seizures. Seizures usually affect how a person acts or what they do for a short period. A seizure can range from being mild and barely noticeable to being completely incapacitating. A seizure may also cause a lapse in awareness, called an absence seizure. Nonepileptic seizures (also called nonepileptic events) look like seizures, but are not caused by electrical brain activity as in epilepsy.

A seizure is not an illness; it is a symptom of a disorder that affects the brain. The most common seizure disorder is epilepsy.

Nonepileptic seizures (also called nonepileptic events) look like seizures, but are not caused by electrical brain activity as in epilepsy.

Which migraine and seizure symptoms and auras are the same?

Migraine aura and seizure aura have similar symptoms such as:

Which migraine and seizure symptoms and auras are different? How long do they last?

Key differences between migraine aura and seizure aura include:

Migraine aura symptoms

  • Talkativeness
  • Appetite changes
  • Water retention
  • Sleep disturbances

Pre-aura prodrome is more common in people with migraines than in people with seizures. Following a migraine aura, a migraine headache can last from 4 to 72 hours. An atypical migraine, also called a common migraine or migraine without aura, is not preceded by an aura.

Seizure aura symptoms

  • Feeling of heaviness
  • Depression
  • Impending feeling of a seizure coming on

Following a seizure aura, the seizure occurs and the post ictal headache is brief.

Can seizures cause migraines?

Seizures usually do not cause migraines. Migraine headaches and seizures share many similar symptoms and often a person with one disorder will experience the other. Seizure auras have many of the same symptoms as migraine auras. Many people who suffer seizures have severe headaches after their seizures because they are misdiagnosed as migraines.

Can migraines cause seizures? What is an ictal headache?

In general, migraines do not cause seizures. Migraines and seizures are two different neurologic problems that have overlapping symptoms. Many of the symptoms that occur before a migraine are similar to symptoms experienced before a seizure. However, people who have migraines are twice as likely to have seizures, and vice-versa. The cause of this relationship is not understood, but there is a clear correlation between the two disorders.In some children, headaches are the only symptom of seizures and they may be misdiagnosed as migraines.

SLIDESHOW

Slideshow: 12 Surprising Headache Triggers Tips See Slideshow

What is the treatment for migraines vs. seizures?

Migraine medication treatments and lifestyle changes

Seizure treatment

  • Medication: anticonvulsants, sedatives, medicines for nerve pain
  • Surgery: Laser interstitial thermal therapy (LiTT) is a minimally invasive surgery used in individuals with drug-resistant epilepsy whose seizures do not respond to medication. The procedure uses heat to remove the part of the brain where the seizures originate.
  • Focal resection: This surgery removes the portion of the brain where seizures begin, and is effective only when seizures originate reliably from a single location in the brain.
  • Hemispherectomy: This procedure involves removal of almost all of one side of the brain. This is only used in a small number of individuals.
  • Corpus callosotomy surgery: Unlike the other procedures, this does not remove the sections of the brain where seizures originate. This procedure cuts off the brain’s electrical communication between hemispheres, interrupting the seizure activity.
  • Vagus nerve stimulation (VNS): this involves stimulation of the vagus nerve by placing a pacemaker device in the chest.
  • Dietary therapy: ketogenic diet (high fat, low carbohydrate)

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Reviewed on 8/29/2019
References
Belcastro, V., et al. Migralepsy, hemicrania epileptica, post-ictal headache and "ictal epileptic headache": a proposal for terminology and classification revision. J Headache Pain. 2011 Jun; 12(3): 289–294. P
<https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3094666/>

Davies, PTG, et al. Migraine triggered seizures and epilepsy triggered headache and migraine attacks: a need for re-assessment.J Headache Pain. 2011 Jun; 12(3): 287–288.
<https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3094670>

Epilepsy Foundation. Absence Seizures. March 2017. 25 May 2018
<https://www.epilepsy.com/learn/types-seizures/absence-seizures>
FDA. Aimovig prescribing information. 2018.
<https://www.accessdata.fda.gov/drugsatfda_docs/label/2018/761077s000lbl.pdf>

Epilepsy Foundation. Migraine & Epilepsy. Updated: Apr 01, 2004.
<https://www.epilepsy.com/learn/professionals/co-existing-disorders/migraine-epilepsy>

Epilepsy Foundation. Seizures and Headaches: They Don't Have to Go Together.
<https://www.epilepsy.com/article/2014/3/seizures-and-headaches-they-dont-have-go-together>

Epilepsy Foundation. What is a Seizure? Updated: Mar 19, 2014.
<https://www.epilepsy.com/learn/about-epilepsy-basics/what-seizure>

Epilepsy Foundation.Nonepileptic Seizures or Events. Updated: January 21, 2013.
<https://www.epilepsy.com/learn/types-seizures/nonepileptic-seizures-or-events>

Sheryl Haut, MD. Differentiating Migraine from Epilepsy. June 2005. Johns Hopkins University Advanced Studies in Medicine. Vol 5 (6E). June 2005.
<http://www.jhasim.net/files/articlefiles/pdf/XASIM_Issue_5_6E_p658_665.pdf>

The Johns Hopkins Medicine; Neurology and Neurosurgery. Treatment for Seizures & Epilepsy.
<https://www.hopkinsmedicine.org/neurology_neurosurgery/centers_clinics/epilepsy/treatment/index.html>

the migraine trust. Treatments.
<https://www.migrainetrust.org/living-with-migraine/treatments/>
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