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What is a Basilar Migraine?

Posted by Migraine Relief Center on Apr 11, 2014 7:00:00 AM

Some migraines are scarier than others, but the type known as basilar migraines are truly terrifying. What is it about these migraines that make them so frightening and alarming?

Years ago, medical researchers turned their attention to migraines that seem to originate from conditions affecting the basilar artery, which is an unpaired vessel that supplies blood to the cerebrum. In the 1960s, neurologist Edwin Bickerstaff theorized about spasms occurring in the basilar artery, thus provoking a particular migraine attack that could bring about strong vertigo and temporary blindness. Later, medical researchers who believe that migraines are not solely of a vascular nature ruled out the exclusive relation to the basilar artery.Basilar_Migraine

Symptoms of Basilar Migraines

Women are more likely than men to suffer from basilar migraines. This is a condition that presents an aura, which is a phase that occurs prior to the actual headache episode. This phase may last between five minutes to an hour, and it may cause patients to experience the following:

  • Vertigo
  • Visual impairment to the point of blindness
  • Double vision
  • Numbness of extremities
  • Near-loss of consciousness

Since the symptoms above are similar to those experienced by patients who suffer strokes or seizures, emergency responders are likely to order CT scans or other diagnostic tests to rule out more serious conditions.

Treatment of Basilar Migraines

Headache specialists usually wait until patients go through two confirmed episodes before they correctly diagnose a basilar migraine condition and not a vascular disease that may lead to seizures or strokes. One clue that supports this diagnosis is the lack of motor skill impairment during the aura phase.

Some typical medications prescribed to treat migraines may be contraindicated for basilar migraines. Non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) can be prescribed along with antiemetic medications to be taken at the moment the patient is aware of the presence of an aura. Beta blockers such as Topamax are sometimes prescribed, but these medications may also bring about significant side effects.

Basilar Migraines and Quality of Life

Patients who deal with basilar migraines tend to suffer from anxiety due to the terrifying effect of their auras. It is very important for these patients to understand that the correlation between these migraines and strokes is minimal.

Basilar migraines are disabling insofar as the vertigo and vision loss that some patients may experience. For this specific migraine, conquering the aura and moving on the headache phase of the migraine can actually be relieving. The actual pain experienced by basilar migraine patients can be mild when compared to the frightening auras.

Learning to manage and avoid triggers is essential for basilar migraine patients. Emotional and mental health counseling is highly recommended as well as avoiding certain migraine medications that may have an immediate effect on normal vascular functions. Patients must do everything they can to work with their physicians on a treatment plan that focuses on stress management.

*Image courtesy of

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Topics: Migraine, Causes

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