Silent migraine: Symptoms, causes, treatment, prevention

Migraines are a prevalent health issue worldwide. A 2015 study reported that 14.2 percent of adults in the United States had experienced a migraine or a severe headache within the previous 3 months.

The causes, risk factors, and treatments for all migraines are similar, regardless of whether or not they are silent migraines.

In this article, we take a closer look at the symptoms of silent migraines and discuss how to treat and prevent them.


Pain is a significant symptom of most types of migraine. Silent migraines do not cause pain, but they share the other typical symptoms of regular migraines.

These symptoms vary according to the phase of the migraine. The phases and their symptoms are as follows:

The prodrome phase

This phase occurs before the onset of a migraine and may begin a few days or just a few hours ahead of it. Symptoms can include:

  • depression
  • difficulty concentrating
  • difficulty speaking and reading
  • fatigue and yawning
  • food cravings
  • irritability
  • muscle stiffness
  • nausea
  • sensitivity to light and sound
  • sleep disturbances
  • frequent urge to urinate

Most people experience the prodrome phase, but it may not occur before every migraine attack.

The aura phase

Only 20–25 percent of people with migraine experience aura. People with silent migraines have aura symptoms without a headache. Aura symptoms include:

  • numbness and tingling in parts of the body
  • temporary loss of sight
  • visual disturbances, such as the appearance of patterns, flashing lights, or blind spots in front of the eyes

These symptoms develop gradually and can persist for up to an hour or more.

The headache phase

During the headache phase, people typically experience pain that can last from 4–72 hours. This is not the case for those with a silent migraine, who are likely to experience the following symptoms during this phase:

  • anxiety or depressed mood
  • giddiness
  • inability to sleep
  • nasal congestion
  • nausea
  • neck pain and stiffness
  • sensitivity to light, smell, and sound
  • vomiting

The exact cause of migraines is unknown, but genetic and environmental factors are likely to play a role.

Migraines may occur due to abnormal brain activity that affects nerves and blood vessels. Changes in brain chemicals, such as serotonin, may also be a contributing factor.

Several factors can trigger a migraine attack, including:

  • certain foods
  • alcohol and caffeine
  • changes in sleep habits
  • changes in the weather or barometric pressure
  • fluctuations in estrogen in females
  • intense physical exertion
  • sensory stimuli, such as bright lights, loud sounds, and strong smells
  • stress
  • use of some medications, such as oral contraceptives and vasodilators

Some people find relief from migraine symptoms using home remedies. These include:

  • practicing relaxation techniques, such as progressive muscle relaxation, meditation, and yoga
  • getting enough sleep each night
  • resting in a dark, quiet room when symptoms start
  • placing an ice pack on the back of the neck
  • gently massaging painful areas of the scalp
  • keeping a diary to help identify migraine triggers

Alternative medicine

Some people, especially those with chronic migraine pain, may benefit from alternative therapies.

Alternative therapies for migraines include:

  • Acupuncture: According to a 2016 review, acupuncture may reduce the number of migraine attacks in people who experience several episodes a month.
  • Biofeedback: A real-time assessment of biofeedback for migraines suggested that the treatment can improve symptoms, such as psychological stress, anxiety, depression, irritation, and headache-related disability. It may also reduce the duration of migraines and the number of days when the headache is intense.
  • Massage therapy: Regular massage therapy can reduce stress and muscle tension, and it may reduce the frequency of migraines.

Management and prevention

Certain lifestyle changes may help reduce or prevent migraine symptoms. People can try:

  • identifying triggers and avoiding them if possible
  • practicing stress-relieving activities, such as meditation, creative therapies, mindfulness, and yoga
  • exercising regularly but avoiding sudden and intense exercise, which may trigger a migraine
  • going to bed and getting up at the same time each day
  • establishing regular mealtimes
  • avoiding caffeine and limiting alcohol intake
  • quitting smoking
  • reaching and maintaining a healthy body weight

People who experience migraines relating to hormonal fluctuations should speak to a doctor who may be able to help them reduce the effects of estrogen.

Some people may need to avoid medications that contain estrogen, which include many types of birth control pills.


Silent migraines can impact a person’s quality of life, especially if they are severe or occur frequently. Even though silent migraines do not cause pain, the other symptoms may be debilitating.

Medications and lifestyle changes can help manage symptoms. Migraine episodes tend to become milder and less frequent with age.

Anyone with symptoms of a migraine, silent or otherwise, should see a doctor for advice and treatment.

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