Do you suffer from headaches that begin at the side of your head and gradually spread, becoming stronger as they move?

You may be experiencing a basilar artery migraine.

These specific types of migraines begin at the brainstem, or the lower area of the brain. Due to their location and strength, they can cause an array of symptoms such as double vision, dizziness, and sometimes lack of coordination.

These symptoms, also known as an aura, can begin 10 to 45 minutes before the pain kicks in. The headache can continue from 4 to 72 hours and sometimes can take a full day to recover from one as the repercussions are draining.

This article will outline everything you need to know about basilar artery migraines, what you need to look out for, and how to treat them.

Who's at Risk for Basilar Artery Migraines and What Are the Causes?

Basilar migraines affect people of any age.

Typically, however, they begin during childhood or during teenage years. Also, women are more susceptible to them.

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These migraines are caused by spasms within the blood vessel at the bottom of the brainstem. This reduces blood flow to the brain.

Triggers may include a lack of sleep, alcohol, certain medications, hunger, hormonal changes, caffeine, or bright lights.

While there are many triggers to this specific type of migraine, there's no true cause or specific trigger that results in this migraine.

Symptoms of Basilar Artery Migraines

As mentioned above, there are a few symptoms of basilar artery migraines.

The aura symptoms can last between 5 minutes to 1 hour. When the migraine begins, the patient may experience an intense throbbing pain on either one or both sides of the head, occasionally at the back of the head.

This is due to the positioning of the symptoms as they originate from both the brainstem and the cerebral hemispheres of the brain, which are located at both sides of the brain. 

These symptoms may include the following:

  • Sensory, such as numbness or tingling that moves up the arm to one side of the face
  • Visual, such as sparkles or lights that may become larger or start to move
  • Speech, such as difficulty pronouncing words although you may know what you want to say. This may also include difficultly understanding what other people are saying

Each symptom lasts for one hour at the most. More detailed symptoms include slurred speech, vertigo, tinnitus (ringing in the ears), diplopia (double vision), and decreased level of consciousness.

As these will occur suddenly, they may also include anxiety and hyperventilation.

Basilar Artery Migraine Treatment

Now that we've gone over the basic details to fully explain the nature of a basilar artery migraine, it's time to look at ways to treat the symptoms.


It's not recommended to use migraine-specific drugs such as triptans and ergotamines due to the fact that they weren't studied in scientific trials. This is because of the belief that spasm or artery-narrowing was the cause of the symptoms.

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These migraine-specific drugs have blood-vessel-constricting properties and therefore would cause issues if used.

Often, a combined treatment of nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory medications and an anti-nausea medication such as phenothiazine is effective in treating basilar artery migraine symptoms.

Preventative drugs such as topiramate and lamotrigine are commonly used as well. Besides these, other traditional preventatives are used.

Diet and lifestyle changes

By changing your lifestyle, eating habits, and routine, you'll not only help treat migraines, but you'll be able to prevent them from happening in the first place – along with a list of other health issues.

These changes can include:

  • Better sleeping habits: try to sleep for 6-8 hours per night
  • Drink less caffeinated, sugary, or alcoholic beverages
  • Begin exercising more regularly: this can simply include taking daily walks
  • Introduce relaxing mind exercises into your daily schedule such as meditation

By treating your mind and body with more care and respect, you will begin to experience healthy outcomes.

How to Diagnose Basilar Artery Headaches

Since the symptoms associated with basilar migraines can seem similar to signs of more serious conditions such as seizure disorder, meningitis, strokes, or brain tumors, it's recommended to visit a neurologist in order to rule these possibilities out.

A neurologist will typically give you a full exam and ask you questions about these symptoms. He may also use tests such as an MRI, CT scans, and nerve tests to narrow down the true cause of your symptoms.

Basilar Artery Migraines: Summary

There's no one, true cause or symptom for basilar artery migraines, and they can come about without notice.

The best way to avoid these migraines and to treat them once symptoms start to appear is by switching to a healthier lifestyle and diet.

If you begin to experience these symptoms, see a doctor immediately for professional guidance. 

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