A complex migraine is a condition that can truly affect one’s daily functioning and quality of life. Worse than the average headache, this condition manifests alongside a number of other debilitating and frustrating symptoms. Sometimes it has even been mistaken for a stroke!
The way that each person experiences a migraine can differ – length, severity, and accompanying symptoms are different for everyone.
It is important, however, to know as much as possible about this condition if you have it. Being educated and prepared can help you to look out for possible triggers and methods of relief. Keep reading to find out all about the complex migraine, as well as the different ways it can present itself.
What Is A Complex Migraine
This is a severe type of headache that millions of people suffer from. It can be an inherited condition that overall affects around three times more women than men. 30% of people who suffer from traditional migraines also suffer from complex migraines, also known as a migraine with aura.
This head pain can last for as long as a couple of hours to several days and can be extremely disabling. For this type of migraine, other symptoms of sensory disturbance are also present and can seriously affect functioning. The accompanying aura itself can last for up to an hour.
An aura is defined as a sensation that occurs before the onset of a full-blown migraine attack. It is the body’s way of alerting you to the fact that the condition is about to set in. At this point, you will experience a sensory disturbance consisting of the sensation of seeing flashing lights before one’s eyes, blurred or double vision, or difficulty speaking. You may feel symptoms which include weakness and dizziness as well.
In some cases, this ailment can even resemble a stroke, so it is incredibly important to be aware if you or someone you know has a predisposition to this complex migraine condition. Weakness of one side of the body and difficulty speaking are two of the symptoms that result in this condition being misunderstood as a stroke. Recognizing warning signs and triggers are key to formulating an understanding of what this form of migraine is – this will be touched on later in this article.
Causes Of The Condition
The exact cause of this condition is not known. However, many theories suggest that it can primarily be attributed to an influx of nerve cell activity in the brain. For the head pain of any migraine, this nerve cell activity forms a kind of electrical wave that spreads across the brain and prompts the trigeminal nerve into excitement.
This is the largest cranial nerve in the human body and is responsible for a variety of motor functions and sensations, including that of sensations felt in the face. When this nerve is triggered, the result is a release of neurotransmitters and brain chemicals that change the size of the blood vessels in the brain. These blood vessels, in turn, release even more neurotransmitters, resulting in an inflammatory process and head pain.
People suffering a complex migraine are theorized to go through the above process with one additional step. The electrical wave that triggers the trigeminal nerve also moves across the part of your brain that processes sensory information. The signals sent to this part of the brain are thus excited too, resulting in sensory disturbances and the onset of the aura.
Because the severity and extent of the effect on this part of the brain may differ, many people experience different symptoms. The underlying cause of the condition, however, is that these symptoms are based upon a disturbance and excitement of sensory signals in the brain.
How Do I Know If I Am Experiencing One
In some cases, it is just the aura that presents itself as a symptom and is not followed by a migraine. This is not as common, however, so it is important to treat the onset of visual disturbances as a warning from your body that the condition may be about to take place. Catching it early with the right medication and methods of relief may be able to better alleviate symptoms, severity, and length of time that you suffer with it.
What Are The Warning Signs
When you are suffering from a migraine, you are fully aware of the fact. The pain and inflammation in the head and face manifests itself as a severe and debilitating headache. However, the warning signs for the complex complicated migraine are numerous. These signs can present themselves as early as hours or even days before the onset of the ailment. The following symptoms are classified as part of the ‘pre-headache phase’:
- Stiffness in the neck and shoulder area
- Mood disturbances such as crankiness or jumpiness
- Onsets of food cravings
- Excessive yawning or fatigue
- Constipation, diarrhea, or the feeling of needing to urinate more frequently
However, symptoms can also be warnings for other ailments in the body. Because of this, it may only become clear to you after experiencing it a number of times as to whether or not this pre-headache phase applies to you, and how. A good idea is to keep a headache diary to keep track of everything that happens when you experience a migraine – before, during, and after. This is also helpful when it comes to treatment, as it may be able to help your health care practitioner to better diagnose and treat you.
Because there are two phases of a complex migraine, there are two sets of symptoms. The first set has to do with the first 5 minutes to an hour of the ailment: the aura. Experiencing an aura is different for everyone, but it always involves sensory disturbances such as:
- Experiencing blind spots (scotomas) or seeing color spots in one’s field of vision
- Seeing flashing lights that resemble camera flashes (scintilla), or shimmering spots and stars before the eyes
- Having double vision or blurred vision
- Seeing colorful zig-zagged lines that float across your field of vision
- Experiencing a heightened sense of smell or smelling things that aren’t there
- Numbness, prickling, or tingling in the body (paresthesia) or weakness on one side of the body
- Difficulty speaking (aphasia)
- Temporary blindness of up to 80%
After experiencing any of the above, you may or may not experience typical symptoms that follow this aura. These include:
- Dull or searing pain in the face and neck
- Acutely, frequent or throbbing headache lasting for hours
- Gastrointestinal disturbances such as nausea and vomiting
- Sensitivity to sound and light
- Lack of concentration
- Hot and cold flushes
As mentioned, these attacks can last from several hours to up to a few days. If they do persist for a few days, then you should go to see a health professional.
Migraines With Similar Symptoms
Along with the typical aura onset, a number of different types of migraines typically share similar symptoms. With this one, you may experience symptoms similar to a stroke. There is also the familial hemiplegic migraine (FHM) which has to do with weakness on one side of the body. This can last for a while, with some reported cases even lasting a few weeks. Difficulty moving half of one’s body is often accompanied by the other symptoms mentioned, making the FHM a truly debilitating condition.
There is also the sporadic hemiplegic migraine (SHM), which is much the same in that it affects one area of the head. This is also often accompanied by FHM symptoms and is always preceded by the experience of an aura.
If you are unsure of which ailment it is you are experiencing it is best to seek medical help right away.
Because these ailments can affect your functioning and quality of life to a large extent, it is extremely important to seek medical help if you suspect associated pain is turning into a complex migraine or even FHMs/SHMs. If you feel ok to manage things on your own, then our article has more information on how to deal with a migraine attack. Some home remedies include:
- Staying in a quiet, dark room
- Try putting a cold compress on painful areas
- Taking anti-inflammatory medications or over-the-counter pain relievers
Of course, if your symptoms begin to worsen it is vital that you take prescription medications that are specifically designed to combat the dizziness, nausea, and sensory disturbances that so often accompany this ailment.
If you begin to suspect you are suffering from aura symptoms, check up on your family history – this is an inherited condition that may affect family members in much the same way. Learn more about the complex migraine symptoms Mayo Clinic has available here. Furthermore, the Headache Society lists some resources that you may find useful too.
Always remember to look out for what may trigger your complex migraine syndrome. These triggers may include:
- Too much or too little sleep
- Bright lights or noisy areas
- Some foods and medications
- Menstruation and pre-menstruation in women
Remember to record the warning signs you experience in a headache diary. This way you can ensure that you are prepared for when the migraine and typical aura symptoms arrive. It is always better to seek the advice of a health care practitioner than to rely solely on home remedies. This can be a scary and debilitating condition, but fortunately, its symptoms can be alleviated as long as you follow the right lifestyle and take the right medications.