Is it still a migraine if there’s no head pain?
Headaches are a common migraine symptom—if not the primary symptom. It may surprise you to know that not all migraines come with a headache. There are instances when a person can have a migraine aura without any head pain. Doctors call this a silent migraine.
Aura is usually a warning sign of an oncoming migraine. Not all people who have migraines experience aura, but when it happens, it usually means a migraine headache is coming. It may be a sign that it’s time to take an acute treatment to relieve or even prevent the migraine.
However, silent migraine is different. People with this migraine type experience aura, but the headache never comes.
Silent Migraine Symptoms
Silent migraine symptoms often last about an hour. Typical migraine treatments are often not effective because pain relievers or triptans often take longer than an hour to kick in. Luckily, the symptoms go completely away on their own—but they can be very disabling during that time.
Common symptoms of aura include:
- Blinking, moving lights or flashes in vision
- Speech difficulty
- Sensitivity to light and noise
How It Can Be Debilitating
When most people think of how migraines are disabling, they think of the severe head pain. Migraine headaches are definitely challenging, but there are many reasons migraines are disabling. (Learn more about what migraine pain is really like here.)
Even without the head pain, silent migraines can still be debilitating to an individual. It can affect their quality of life and even put them in danger. For example, if a person gets blurry vision while they’re driving, it could cause them to get into an accident. Sudden attacks that disable them for an hour could also affect work, relationships, or hobbies.
Diagnosing and treating silent migraine can be tricky. You may need to see a specialist, such as a neurologist who specializes in headaches. If you think you have silent migraines, talk to your doctor.
Noah Rosen, MD, is the director at the Northwell Health Headache Center.