Basilar type migraine, perviously known as migraine with brainstem aura and basilar artery migraine, is a rare form of migraine. Anyone can experience basilar type migraine, but it is most commonly found in adolescent girls. Symptoms experienced during the aura phase of basilar type migraine can include the following:
Dizziness and vertigo
Disorientation and confusion
Double vision and other visual changes
Loss of balance
Slurring of speech
Loss of consciousness
Tingling and/or pins and needles affecting both arms and/or legs
The head pain experienced with basilar type migraine occurs at the base of the head. Several tests may be performed in order to rule out other conditions (such as epilepsy, if loss of consciousness is a symptom). These can include an MRI of the brain, an Electroencephalogram (EEG) and a 24-hour heart monitor.
It is important that this condition is diagnosed correctly. Specific medication is required to treat and manage basilar type migraine. In addition, several commonly used migraine medications are not suitable for use. It’s also important to be aware that those with basilar type migraine are at a slightly higher risk of stroke.
Because basilar type migraine is rare, it can be difficult to get a correct diagnosis. My basilar type migraine started when I was 13, having suffered from hemiplegic migraine for two years prior. It wasn’t until I was 23, when I was seen by a neurologist specialising in basilar type migraine at the National Hospital for Neurology and Neurosurgery, that I finally received an accurate diagnosis.
In the 10 years between my symptoms starting and my diagnosis, I had a CT and MRI scan, as well as several EEGs. When no abnormal electrical activity was found, the cause of my loss of consciousness was put down to ‘making it up’ and ‘doing it for attention’. Thankfully my family, friends and school didn’t believe this and were unfaltering in their support. I was passed between doctors and psychologists. Doctors, not knowing what was wrong, felt I had a mental health condition and sent me to psychologists. Psychologists were adamant that my symptoms were physical and sent me back to doctors. This cycle continued for several years.
It took two private appointments for the cause of my loss of consciousness to be agreed as migraine. I was then finally referred to a specialist in basilar type migraine. Since being with my specialist consultant, we have tried several medications specifically for basilar type migraine. All but one have proved to be much more helpful in controlling my symptoms. As a result of having a specialist in basilar type migraine and the correct medication, I haven’t lost consciousness in two years. This is a far cry from the twenty to thirty times a day when I was 13.
You can find support for living with basilar type migraine from Migraine Action.
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Useful resources –
Rare Diseases, Migraine with brainstem aura. https://rarediseases.info.nih.gov/diseases/5896/migraine-with-brainstem-aura Genetic and Rare Diseases Information Center (GARD) 6/15/2016.
The Migraine Trust, Migraine with brainstem aura. https://www.migrainetrust.org/about-migraine/types-of-migraine/migraine-with-brainstem-aura/ C The Migraine Trust 2017.
The American Migraine Foundation, Basilar-Type Migraines. https://americanmigrainefoundation.org/living-with-migraines/types-of-headachemigraine/basilar-type-migraines/ C The American Migraine foundation 2016.