Skip to main content
Woman wearing a yellow jacket suffering with a migraine

Basilar Migraines: Causes, Symptoms and Treatment

A bad headache can really put a damper on your day, and most would probably agree that a migraine can be even worse. Migraines can cause debilitating, throbbing pain that may make you sensitive to light, sound, and even sudden movement.1 Often people that experience migraines can have symptoms like tiredness, nausea, visual disturbances, and even temporary loss of vision.1 Essentially, migraines are not a pleasant experience.

There are a variety of migraines that one can experience, including migraines with aura (also known as a basilar migraine), migraines without aura, ocular migraines, and retinal migraines.1 Below, we explore more closely the specific type of migraine known as the basilar migraine, providing you with details about the common causes, symptoms, and treatment options.

Basilar migraine symptoms

A basilar migraine is also referred to as a migraine with brainstem aura or a migraine with aura2. This is a migraine type that has aura symptoms originating from the base of the brain or both sides of the brain at the same time.2 People that experience migraine with brainstem aura can have the following symptoms:

  • Visual. You may experience seeing spots, stars, or lines in your vision.2
  • Sensory. You may feel a numbness in your face, hands, or head.2
  • Speech. You may not be able to speak or pronounce words properly (slurred speech).2

Because this type of migraine starts in the base of the brain, you can experience symptoms on one or both sides of your body.2,3 This may cause other symptoms of ataxia (having unsteady/uncoordinated movements), tinnitus (ringing in ears), vertigo (spinning of self or environment), diplopia (double vision), and even symptoms of nausea or impaired hearing.2

Basilar migraines causes and triggers

Just as it is important to understand the potential symptoms of basilar migraines, it is also important to know what could be triggering them. Similar to a migraine trigger, a basilar migraine can be activated by:

  • Emotional stress
  • Delaying or missing a meal
  • Being sensitive to specific chemical or preservatives in foods
  • Having too much caffeine or being in withdrawal from caffeine
  • Hormonal changes (specifically for women around the time of their menstrual periods)
  • Flashing or fluorescent lights1

Other common triggers include overexertion, disruptive or inconsistent sleep, medications that cause blood vessels to swell, not drinking enough water, and even changes in weather conditions that cause barometric pressure changes.1

Basilar migraine diagnosis and treatment

Those that suspect that they might be experiencing migraines with brainstem aura should consider being carefully assessed by their doctor for any underlying causes. Your doctor may diagnose you with a basilar migraine based not only on your signs and symptoms, but on your medical and family history and a thorough physical exam.4 Some of the different types of assessments you can get are:

  • Eye examination. This is done by an ophthalmologist and can rule out your eyes being the cause of the aura.4
  • MRI or head CT scan. These two assessments capture images of your internal organs and brain, which can provide information on whether a more serious condition is causing these basilar migraines.4

For acute treatment, your doctor may recommend a nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory (NSAID) medication4 like Excedrin Migraine. However, your doctor may also suggest some lifestyle and stress management tips to soothe your basilar migraine. For example, you can place a cool cloth or an ice pack wrapped in a towel or cloth on your forehead and try sitting in a dark, quiet room.4 Other tips include getting a good night’s rest and drinking plenty of water to take extra care of your body.4

For more migraine prevent tips, check out the Excedrin Migraine Hub and read articles on how to deal with migraines at work and more.

Source Citations:

  1. Migraine Headaches.
    Accessed on 4/9/2021. Referenced text indicated in source PDF.
  2. Migraine with Brainstorm Aura.
    Accessed on 4/9/2021. Referenced text indicated in source PDF.
  3. Migraine with Aura: Symptoms and Causes.
    Accessed on 4/9/2021. Referenced text indicated in source PDF.
  4. Migraine with Aura: Diagnosis and Treatment.
    Accessed on 4/9/2021. Referenced text indicated in source PDF.

Become a headache expert.
Sign up for the 5-week Headache Boot Camp