Vascular migraines are an outdated term used to describe headaches associated with changes in the blood vessels in the head or neck. Migraines, cluster headaches, and toxic or disease-related headaches are all related to changes in blood vessels.
This article explains what a vascular migraine is, the symptoms associated with it, and the treatment options available. Ways to prevent them are also discussed.
A vascular headache, or migraine, refers to a group of headache conditions that occur due to changes in the blood vessels in the head or neck. They often include throbbing pain and swelling or widening of the blood vessels.
Organizations like the International Headache Society no longer use the term “vascular headache”.
Healthcare professionals now classify migraine vascular headaches as either primary or secondary headaches.
However, primary headaches are diseases in their own right and include:
- Tension-type headache
- Cluster headache
Secondary headaches occur as a result of another medical condition such as high blood pressure, head trauma, and sinusitis.
According to the American Migraine Foundation, migraine is a disabling neurological condition that can affect at least 39 million people in the United States. In addition, migraines can be chronic or episodic.
They also have different stages including:
- Prodrome: This typically occurs before the migraine headache and includes symptoms of tiredness, exhaustion, mood swings, or cravings.
- Aura: This occurs around 20% of the time and typically causes vision problems.
- Headache: This is pain on one or both sides of the head that lasts from a few hours to a few days.
- Postdrome: This occurs after the headache and can include symptoms such as fatigue, sensitivity to light, body aches and pains, and difficulty concentrating
A person typically does not experience every stage of a migraine.
Symptoms of a migraine can last from 4 hours to several days and often include:
- moderate or severe headache
- Vomiting or feeling sick
- Pain on one or both sides of the head, in the front or back, or around the eyes
- worsening pain after physical activity
- Pain interfering with activity, school, or work
- throbbing, pulsating, or pounding sensations
- Sensitivity to light, smell, or noise
Doctors don’t know exactly what the exact cause of migraines is, although it usually runs in families. People can have different triggers that cause migraines.
Learn more about migraine triggers.
Tension headaches are common, affecting 30 to 78% of the population. People can describe the pain as an oppressive or attractive feeling that can range from mild to moderate in intensity. A person can also experience sensitivity to light.
Tension headaches can be rare or chronic, which we define below.
- Rarely: A person experiences 10 episodes a year.
- Often: Individuals will experience 10 or more episodes that occur about 1-14 days per month.
- Chronic: People experience an episode for 15 days or more each month for longer than 3 months.
Some causes of tension headaches are:
- lack of sleep
- do not eat in time
According to the National Organization for Rare Diseases (NORD), cluster headaches are a severe and rare form of primary neurovascular headache.
In most cases, they appear on one side of the head above the eye or on the temple and can last anywhere from 30 minutes to 2 hours. People can describe the pain as stinging, stabbing, and stinging.
Other symptoms are:
- watery eyes
- Facial sweating
- stuffy nose
- Eyelid swelling
- Drooping eyelid
They are most likely to occur in spring and fall, while cluster headache triggers can be seasonal changes, smoking, or alcohol consumption.
There are a wide variety of diseases that can cause headaches. Fever due to illnesses like the flu and other illnesses can cause headaches.
Symptoms associated with disease-related headaches can vary depending on the person’s condition. Typically, the headache will also go away after treating the underlying condition.
Treatment options vary depending on the type of headache.
Treatment for secondary headache depends on the underlying cause. A person should speak to a doctor about the options that will work best for them.
People can try the following measures to relieve headache symptoms:
- Drink plenty of water
- try to relax if possible
- Taking over-the-counter medications such as acetaminophen and ibuprofen
Individuals may also want to avoid:
- drink alcohol
- Skipping meals
- sleep longer than usual
- look at screens for long periods of time
In some cases, a person may be able to avoid triggers associated with cluster or migraine headaches.
For some types of headache, people may need prescription medication
Treatment for migraines includes preventative treatments, such as:
- Avoid triggers
- Stress management strategies
- Taking preventive drugs like Erenumab, Lasmiditan, Urogepant, and Lasmiditan
Additionally, a person can seek symptom relief by using:
- Analgesics such as aspirin and ibuprofen
Learn more about tips for instant migraine relief.
Treatment for cluster headaches includes:
- Sumatriptan injections
- Sumatriptan nasal spray
- Oxygen therapy
Learn more about cluster headache treatment.
Humans may not be able to prevent all headaches. However, you could take steps to avoid them, including taking preventive medications.
For both migraines and cluster headaches, a person can avoid known triggers to reduce the number of headaches they have.
The American Migraine Foundation notes that individuals can take steps to avoid stress, eat foods that won’t trigger their migraines, and take medication to prevent migraine headaches.
At the onset of a cluster headache, a person may be able to use an oxygen mask with 7 to 15 liters of oxygen per minute to stop the attack. A doctor may also recommend other steps to prevent headaches from occurring, including avoiding smoking and alcohol.
Illness-related headaches can be inevitable. However, treating the underlying condition can help prevent headaches from occurring.
Risk factors can vary between types of headache.
Migraines can affect any population. However, they are three times more likely to occur in women than in men. In comparison, men are more likely to develop cluster headaches than women.
Risk factors for developing migraines are:
- be female
- have a family history of migraines
- have other medical conditions such as anxiety, depression, insomnia, and epilepsy
A doctor needs to understand a person’s symptoms, family history, and response to the medications they have taken. You will likely ask several questions to help determine the cause of the pain.
The diagnostic criteria can vary depending on the type of headache:
- Migraine: A doctor will ask about a person’s medical history and ask about their symptoms. You will also do a physical and neurological exam.
- Tension headache: A doctor will diagnose tension headaches based on symptoms.
- Cluster headache: There are no tests that can diagnose cluster headaches. However, a doctor will diagnose them based on a person’s headache patterns.
A doctor may mistake a migraine headache for a cluster headache. According to NORD, a person must have at least five migraine headaches that meet the following conditions:
- severe pain around the eye that lasts 15 minutes to 3 hours
- Attacks occur up to eight times a day or once every other day
- includes symptoms such as congestion, swelling of the eye, drooping eyelid, or sweating of the face
Diagnosing a disease-related headache depends on a person’s symptoms and the underlying medical condition.
A person should speak to a doctor if they have symptoms related to migraines or cluster headaches. A doctor needs to diagnose the condition and discuss possible treatment options.
If headache occurs as part of another infection, people should speak to their doctor if:
- the headache keeps coming back
- Pain relievers are not effective
- the headache gets worse
- You have pain in the front or side of the head as it could be a migraine or a cluster headache
- You have symptoms such as nausea, vomiting, sensitivity to light, or sensitivity to noise
Health professionals now categorize vascular migraines as primary or secondary headaches, which may include migraines, tension headaches, cluster headaches, and illness headaches, among others.
Symptoms and treatment options vary depending on the type of headache a person is suffering from.
However, people can take several steps to relieve symptoms, such as: For example, drink plenty, rest, take pain medication, and consider prescription preventive treatment if headaches are frequent.