What Is a Silent Migraine?

Updated April 17, 2017

A silent migraine has many of the typical symptoms of regular migraines without the headache pain. It is frequently mistaken for other illnesses, because a person may experience visual, auditory and speech problems. Often, these types of headaches create an aura, a phase in which a number of symptoms appear and warn the coming of the silent migraine.


Another name for silent migraines is eye migraines, and this type of migraine usually occurs later in life and more in men than in women. Some symptoms are visual problems such as seeing flashing lights, zigzag lines and distortions. Other symptoms include dizziness, ringing in the ears and trouble finding the right words when talking. The visual problems can last from 20 to 40 minutes on the average.


Sometimes a silent migraine is mistaken for more serious diseases such as stoke or hypoglycaemia. A migraine is a neurological disorder, and the silent migraines have four phases. A prodrome stage warns that a migraine is coming with a number of symptoms such as irritability, confusion, thirst or nausea. Aura is another unique phase of the silent migraine, known primarily for visual symptoms in the eyes. About one in five people experience an aura, and it can display other symptoms such as motor, sensory and speech problems. Pain is the third phase, for which silent migraines do not have the headache pain component. Visual disturbances include tunnel vision, dots or spots in vision and auditory hallucinations. The last phase is resolution, in which the migraine sufferer experiences fatigue and general malaise.


Silent migraines are often caused by physical or emotional stress, lack of sleep, skipped meals, caffeine and environmental pollution. Certain types of foods such as nuts, chocolate or pickled foods trigger migraines. Sometimes, hormone changes in women like menstruation, pregnancy or menopause will be another cause. Most silent migraine symptoms are accompanied by chills, diarrhoea, nausea and fatigue. Some people exhibit emotional symptoms like confusion, irritability and states of euphoria. The aura symptoms include flashing lights, distortions in taste and smell and auditory hallucinations.


Scientists believe that migraines relate to how the nerve cells are firing in the brain as well as nerve activity and the brain's blood flow. An aura is often caused by overstimulation of nerves in the brain followed by depression of nerve cell activities. This reduced brain pattern is called cortical spreading depression, and it spreads across the top layer of the brain. It travels to the visual centre of the brain called the occipital lobe, to the bodily sensation part of the brain called the parietal lobe and to the hearing part of the brain. The brain pattern mirrors the symptoms of a migraine.


To treat silent migraine symptoms, sufferers should see a doctor to get the proper diagnosis. It is recommended to keep a food journal to see if a particular diet is causing or contributing to the silent migraines. There are over 100 medications used to treat migraines, so the patient may need to try different medications before finding one that works well. The doctor will need to know about any other medications that the patient is taking to prevent complications arising from an improper combination of medications. It is important for migraine sufferers to eat well and get adequate rest and exercise.

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About the Author

Joan Russell has been a freelance writer for many years. She writes on variety of topics, including food, health, gardening, travel and education. She's written for the Christian Science Monitor, IGA Grocergram, Home Cooking, Atlantic Publishing and Duclinea Media. She has a B.A. in journalism/communications from the University of Bridgeport and an A.S in food service management from Naugatuck Valley Technical Community College.