Migraine dizziness is widely misunderstood and under-diagnosed. Many people think migraines are just headaches, but in reality people with migraines are dealing with a complex, neurological condition that requires daily management, attention and special care.
Migraines should always be considered as a potential cause of repeated episodes of dizziness and vertigo. People can have both migraine dizziness and true vertigo during a migraine episode, or in between episodes of migraine.
The specific type of migraines that involve dizziness or vertigo is called “Vestibular Migraine” and the symptom is usually called “migraine dizziness” or “migraine associated dizziness.” Sometimes vestibular migraine can cause vomiting, and other times it does not.
Not all migraines are vestibular, as migraines can also occur without dizziness or vertigo. There are many different sub-types of migraines.
Typical migraines involve a worsening of symptoms with light called “photophobia” or with sound called “phonophobia,” so resting in a dark and quiet room in usually needed to resolve a migraine.
Migraine dizziness is the great mimicker of all types of dizziness and vertigo because sometimes migraines can cause dizziness for minutes, hours, days or even weeks. Migraine dizziness or vertigo can occur with or without a headache, which confuses many people who think head pain must be present during a migraine.
For example, “ocular migraines” involve a change to the vision or a cut in the visual field that lasts for 20 minutes to hours without any headache. Many people report this visual change as dizziness.
In many cases, migraines run in the family genetically, and other times migraines result from concussion injuries from sports or a car accident.
Migraine Dizziness in Children and Women
In children, migraines are the most common cause of dizziness. Children are more likely to experience “abdominal migraines,” which are primarily associated with a stomach ache, nausea and vomiting.
Changes to patterns of migraines can occur during puberty, pregnancy or menopause, and may worsen just prior to menstruation, suggesting a hormonal influence in migraines for some women.
How to get Diagnosed with Migraine Dizziness
Migraine dizziness can be difficult to diagnose since there is not a specific diagnostic test for migraines.
Often the history of symptoms is a key factor in diagnosing migraine dizziness. Tracking your symptom onset, duration, and trigger(s) is always helpful for providers who are trying to figure out the cause(s) of migraine dizziness and vertigo.
Some people are diagnosed with migraine by their primary care doctor, and others are referred to Neurology.
Treatment for Migraine Dizziness
Your healthcare provider can advise you on specific treatments for migraine dizziness, like medications, and self-care strategies that may help you.
Below I list some strategies that I have personally benefitted from for my case of severe vestibular migraines:
- Identify and completely avoid food triggers, like MSG, gluten, red wine, dark chocolate and aged cheese
- Avoid flashing lights like strobe lights, disco balls, and LED lights
- Avoid loud music like rock concerts and repeated, loud noises like jack-hammering
- Wear earplugs if loud noise is unavoidable
- Wear earmuffs if it is too cold to protect ears
- Use polarized sunglasses while driving to reduce glare from the road
- Eat healthy and organic as much as possible, to avoid toxins like pesticides
- Avoid too much sugar and dairy
- Stay hydrated
- Get plenty of sleep on a regular schedule
- Exercise regularly, but not during a migraine episode
- Stretch out hips, back and neck
- Consult a manual therapy physical therapist or chiropractor, if neck or back hurts
In migraine dizziness, specific triggers cause a rapid depolarization, or firing of many neurons, in the brain that create the overwhelming symptoms of an episode. So avoiding the triggers is a key to reducing or eliminating debilitating migraine episodes.
Note: Everyone’s migraine triggers are different so it helps to notice patterns of what you are exposed to right before an episode. Tell your loved ones so they can help you avoid triggers.
One thing I have learned about migraine dizziness in my 30+ year journey of living with vestibular migraines is that a “migraine brain” is a sensitive brain, which must be protected from noxious stimuli all the time to prevent debilitating migraine episodes.
That sensitive brain can be “high maintenance,” as evidenced by the fact that I made my husband switch our seats twice at Church last Sunday and four times at the restaurant where we ate afterwards, due to lighting issues.
But migraine dizziness and migraine brains tend to produce high levels of creativity in art, music or writing if properly cared for, so I try not to get frustrated with my “high maintenance” migraine brain.
For more information on migraines and help identifying triggers, I read a great book years ago called, “The Migraine Brain.”
This blog is provided for informational purposes only. The content and any comments by Dr. Kim Bell, DPT are not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition. The details of any case mentioned in this post represent a typical patient that Dr. Bell might see and do not describe the circumstances of a specific individual.