Migraines and Seizures – Telling The Difference

migraines and seizures

The connection between migraines and seizures is by no means a simple one, but what can be said is that there is some kind of connection. The number of children with epilepsy (which causes seizures) who also have migraine is estimated to be between 8% and 24%, which is approximately double the normal prevalence of migraine found in non-epileptic members of the population. Added to this is the fact that people who have migraine with aura are at a mildly increased risk of stroke.

Even with the increased risk, experiencing either migraine or seizures does not necessarily mean that you will have the other, but for those who do experience both it can be very complicated as it’s not always clear at first which has occurred – a migraine or a seizure. After all, both conditions are related to brain function, and both have similar symptoms. There are some things that help to diagnose which is being experienced however.

In seizures something called automatism occurs – this is essentially involuntary movements. Typically these are things like chewing movements or fidgety movements. This is not something which happens with migraines, so if automatism is present along with head pain it’s most likely a seizure-related headache.

Memory loss is another thing which is usually a seizure symptom rather than a migraine symptom. Confusion may occur with a migraine, but not being able to recall the headache having taken place suggests a seizure. 

Visual disturbances are something which can occur with both a seizure or a migraine, but with a migraine these disturbances emerge gradually over the course of a few minutes. With a seizure the visual disturbance will be of short duration and occur suddenly.

The time it takes to occur is another way you can differentiate between migraines and seizures more generally too – not just with the visual disturbances. Migraine pain usually increases gradually, while a headache which is related to seizure will come on very suddenly.

Having an electroencephalogram (EEG) is the best way to distinguish between migraine and seizure, but in more general terms if a person is having migraine symptoms along with neurological symptoms, and the person isn’t responding to any migraine treatments, then it’s worth asking whether it’s definitely migraines which the person is having. 

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