Migraine Variant - does this describe you?

If you've been diagnosed with Migraine Variant, you may still be confused.  How is that different from other types of migraine?  Is the treatment different?  What can you do about it?

First of all, the term migraine variant usually is not referring to a specific type of migraine.  Let me explain.  The International Headache Society has come up with a list of classifications of migraine and other headaches, in an attempt to better standardize diagnosis.  In other words, it helps if all doctors are using the same language, otherwise there can be a great deal of confusion.  If one doctor calls your migraine one thing, and your neurologist calls it something else, you can be left wondering who you should ask next!

So in this list of classifications, there is nothing called Migraine Variant (MV).

It is possible your doctor is thinking of a specific type of migraine.  If so, you might want to direct her to the IHS Classification website, and ask which of the types of migraine she's referring to.

Common Migraine Variants

It's more likely that your doctor is simply saying that your migraine attacks don't fit into the largest categories.  The most common types of migraine are migraine with aura and migraine without aura.  If you don't fit into one of these two categories, you may be told you have MV.  This is especially true if you have pronounced or severe symptoms that are not headache (you may have headache too).

If this is the case, there are a few different types of headache you may have.  Again, it would be helpful to check with a specialist to see if you can narrow down the diagnosis.  Though often the treatment is the same, knowing where your symptoms fit may give your doctor clues about where to go with your treatment, and what other problems she may want to rule out.

Here are some of the types of migraine that may be diagnosed as MV:

  • Migraine aura without headache or typical aura without headache:  This is one of the more common variants.  You experience visual or other sensory symptoms, but get no headache.  This would include seeing flashing lights, numbness, or pins and needles.  Often referred to as silent migraine or migraine variant.
  • Abdominal migraine:  Mainly seen in children, abdominal migraine symptoms include abdominal pain, nausea and vomiting.
  • Hemiplegic migraine and familial hemiplegic migraine:  A type of migraine that often involves weakness or paralysis on one side of the body (more on hemiplegic migraine).
  • Basilar type migraine:  A MV which usually involves dizziness, vertigo, and even loss of consciousness (more on basilar type migraine).
In these last two, an EEG may be useful.  Your doctor may use the term "variant" to refer to your EEG results.  In this case (as always), it's important for your doctor to know your medical history and rule out other factors.