What Is Hemiplegic Migraine?

Hemiplegic migraine

This article aims to provide a comprehensive understanding of hemiplegic migraine, a rare and severe form of migraine. Here, we cover its definition, symptoms, causes, diagnosis, treatment options, and various management strategies.

If you've ever experienced an intense migraine accompanied by more than just a throbbing headache, you might have wondered what's causing it and how to find relief. Fortunately, you're in the right place. In this article, we'll explore the world of hemiplegic migraine, delving into its symptoms, causes, and available treatment options. By the end of this article, you'll have a clearer understanding of this condition and how to manage it effectively.

What is hemiplegic migraine?

Hemiplegic migraine is a rare and complex neurological disorder that falls under the broader category of migraines. What sets it apart is the temporary paralysis or weakness that accompanies the severe headache. The term "hemiplegic" refers to the fact that this type of migraine usually affects one side of the body, leading to symptoms that mimic a stroke. It can be a frightening experience due to the sudden onset of weakness or paralysis, which can last anywhere from a few hours to several days.

Key points about hemiplegic migraine:

  • Paralysis and Weakness: The hallmark of hemiplegic migraine is the presence of temporary paralysis or weakness on one side of the body. This can include symptoms such as difficulty moving an arm or leg, drooping of the face, and slurred speech.1,2
  • Severe Headache: Like other types of migraines, hemiplegic migraines are often accompanied by a severe headache. However, the added neurological symptoms are a distinguishing feature.
  • Aura: Many individuals with hemiplegic migraine experience an "aura" before the onset of the headache. An aura is a visual or sensory disturbance that can include flashing lights, blind spots, or tingling sensations.1
  • Familial Link: There is evidence to suggest that hemiplegic migraine may have a genetic component, as it sometimes runs in families.1
  • Triggers: Various factors can trigger hemiplegic migraines, including stress, certain foods, hormonal changes, and sensory stimuli1,2

Read on

If you're intrigued by the complexities of hemiplegic migraine and want to know more about its underlying causes, available treatments, and ways to manage and prevent episodes, read on. By understanding the condition better, you can work towards minimizing its impact on your life and finding the right strategies for relief.

Distinction from other types of migraines:

Hemiplegic migraine is distinct from other types of migraines, primarily due to its unique neurological symptoms. Here are a few key distinctions:

  1. Hemiplegic Migraine vs. Migraine without Aura: In hemiplegic migraine, the presence of hemiplegia or hemiparesis sets it apart from the more common migraine without aura. The aura in hemiplegic migraines often involves motor symptoms, while a typical migraine aura may include visual, sensory, or speech-related disturbances.1
  2. Hemiplegic migraine vs. hemiplegia from other causes: Hemiplegic migraine is sometimes misdiagnosed as other neurological conditions that cause hemiplegia, such as stroke. However, in hemiplegic migraine, the paralysis is temporary and reversible, whereas following a stroke, the effects are typically long-lasting.
  3. .Familial hemiplegic migraine: There is also a genetic subtype known as familial hemiplegic migraine (FHM), where the condition runs in families and is linked to specific genetic mutations. FHM can be more severe and prolonged than sporadic hemiplegic migraine, which occurs when there is no family history of the disease

It's important to note that hemiplegic migraine is relatively rare, and its diagnosis and management should be overseen by a healthcare professional familiar with neurological conditions. If you suspect you or someone you know might be experiencing hemiplegic migraines, seeking medical attention for proper diagnosis and treatment is crucial.

Diagnosing hemiplegic migraine necessitates a comprehensive medical assessment due to its resemblance to other neurological conditions, such as stroke or various migraine types. 

The diagnostic process typically encompasses the following stages: 

  1. Thorough Medical History: Your healthcare provider will gather a detailed medical history, including the frequency, duration, and specific qualities of your symptoms. Any family history of migraines or similar symptoms will also be taken into account.3
  2. Neurological Examination: A comprehensive neurological examination will be conducted to evaluate your overall neurological health. The occurrence of hemiplegia during an episode, coupled with other aura symptoms and intense headaches, can serve as indicators of hemiplegic migraine.
  3. Application of Diagnostic Criteria: The International Classification of Headache Disorders (ICHD) provides precise diagnostic criteria for different headache types, including hemiplegic migraine.1 Your symptoms will be compared against these criteria to determine if they align with a diagnosis of hemiplegic migraine.
  4. Imaging Procedures: In certain instances, imaging studies like magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) or computed tomography (CT) scans might be ordered to rule out alternative causes for your symptoms.3
  5. Genetic Testing (for Familial Hemiplegic Migraine): If there's a strong family history of hemiplegic migraine, genetic testing might be considered to identify specific genetic mutations associated with the condition.

It's important to acknowledge that diagnosing hemiplegic migraine can be intricate due to its rarity and overlap with other neurological disorders. Seeking guidance from qualified healthcare professionals, like neurologists or headache specialists, is crucial to ensure accurate diagnosis and appropriate management strategies.

Causes and triggers

  1. Genetic factors:

Genetic factors, especially in cases of familial hemiplegic migraine (FHM), have been linked to hemiplegic migraine. Certain genetic mutations impact ion channels and neurotransmitter regulation in the brain, leading to abnormal brain excitability and susceptibility to migraine attacks.1

  1. Ion channel mutations:

Many instances of hemiplegic migraine, particularly familial cases, are associated with mutations in genes encoding calcium ion channels.1. These channels play a vital role in governing the flow of charged particles in and out of nerve cells, influencing their communication. Mutations in these ion channels can disrupt normal neural signalling and contribute to the characteristic symptoms of hemiplegic migraine.

  1. Triggers and environmental influences:

Similar to other migraine types, hemiplegic migraines can be triggered or exacerbated by diverse environmental factors and lifestyle choices. Common triggers encompass stress, hormonal fluctuations, specific foods (like aged cheeses or processed meats), inadequate sleep, dehydration, bright lights, strong odours, and weather changes.1,2 Identifying and managing triggers can help decrease the frequency and severity of attacks.

Treatment options

A. Acute management:

  • Pain Alleviation: Non-prescription pain relievers such as nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) can be effective in mitigating headache pain during a hemiplegic migraine episode. In some cases, more potent prescription medications might be necessary.1
  • Triptans: Triptans constitute a class of medications designed to target migraines. They function by narrowing blood vessels and reducing brain inflammation. However, their usage in hemiplegic migraines has been controversial due to the potential risk of vasoconstriction.3

B. Preventive measures:

  • Lifestyle Changes: Identifying and avoiding triggers, maintaining a regular sleep schedule, staying hydrated, and managing stress can all contribute to reducing the frequency and severity of hemiplegic migraine attacks.
  • Medications: Certain medications used to prevent migraines, such as beta-blockers, calcium channel blockers, and antiepileptic drugs, might be prescribed for individuals with frequent and debilitating hemiplegic migraines.2

C. Medications and therapies:

  • Calcium Channel Blockers: These medications, such as verapamil, can help regulate calcium flow in cells and reduce the frequency of migraines by preventing excessive neural excitability.3
  • Anti-seizure Medications: Some antiepileptic drugs, like topiramate, can help stabilize brain activity and reduce the occurrence of hemiplegic migraines.1
  • Botulinum Toxin Injections: Botox injections have been approved for chronic migraine prevention. They work by inhibiting the release of certain neurotransmitters involved in pain signalling.2

Lifestyle management:

A. Identifying triggers:

Keeping a headache diary can help identify triggers by tracking your activities, foods consumed, sleep patterns, and other factors before migraine attacks occur.

B. Stress reduction techniques:

Practicing relaxation techniques, such as deep breathing, meditation, yoga, and progressive muscle relaxation, can help manage stress and potentially reduce the likelihood of migraine attacks.

C. Healthy lifestyle choices: 

Adopting a well-balanced diet, staying hydrated, getting regular exercise, maintaining a consistent sleep schedule, and avoiding excessive caffeine and alcohol consumption can contribute to overall migraine management.

Coping strategies:

A. Supportive resources:

Connecting with support groups, both online and in-person, can provide a sense of community and shared experiences. Organizations like the Migraine Research Foundation and the American Migraine Foundation offer resources for individuals with migraine disorders.

B. Mental health considerations:

Living with a chronic condition like hemiplegic migraine can be emotionally challenging. Seeking therapy or counselling can help manage the emotional impact and assist in developing healthy coping strategies.

C. Educating family and friends:

Informing your close circle about hemiplegic migraine and its effects can foster understanding and support. Educating them about triggers and warning signs can help them provide assistance when needed. Remember that hemiplegic migraine is a complex condition that requires personalized management. Working closely with a healthcare provider, neurologist, or headache specialist is crucial to developing a tailored treatment plan that addresses your specific needs and helps improve your quality of life.


Q1: How can I differentiate between a hemiplegic migraine and a stroke? 

A1: While both conditions can present with similar symptoms, such as weakness and paralysis on one side of the body, a hemiplegic migraine is temporary and typically accompanied by a severe headache. However, a stroke is serious and can be life-threatening, If you're unsure, seek medical attention immediately to rule out any serious conditions.

Q2: Are there any specific triggers I should avoid to prevent hemiplegic migraines? 

A2: Triggers can vary from person to person, but common ones include stress, certain foods (like aged cheeses and processed meats), bright lights, and hormonal fluctuations2. Keeping a migraine diary can help identify your personal triggers.

Q3: Is hemiplegic migraine treatable? 

A3: Yes, while there is no cure for hemiplegic migraine, there are various treatment options available to manage and alleviate symptoms. These include medications to treat acute attacks, preventive measures, and lifestyle adjustments.


Hemiplegic migraine is a unique and challenging neurological disorder characterized by temporary paralysis or weakness on one side of the body, often accompanied by a severe headache. It is essential to rule out other neurological conditions, like stroke, as while the effects of Hemiplegic migraine are temporary, a stroke can be life-threatening. Genetic factors such as ion channel mutations are believed to play a role in its development, and identifying triggers is crucial for managing and preventing episodes. Treatment options range from acute management with medications to preventive measures and lifestyle adjustments. By understanding the complexities of hemiplegic migraine, individuals can work towards effective management and an improved quality of life.


  1. Kumar, Anil, et al. ‘Hemiplegic Migraine’. StatPearls, StatPearls Publishing, 2023. PubMed, http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK513302/.
  2. Hemiplegic Migraine - Symptoms, Causes, Treatment | NORD. https://rarediseases.org/rare-diseases/hemiplegic-migraine/. Accessed 18 Aug. 2023.
  3. Stefano, Vincenzo Di, et al. ‘Diagnostic and Therapeutic Aspects of Hemiplegic Migraine’. Journal of Neurology, Neurosurgery & Psychiatry, vol. 91, no. 7, July 2020, pp. 764–71. jnnp.bmj.com, https://doi.org/10.1136/jnnp-2020-322850.
This content is purely informational and isn’t medical guidance. It shouldn’t replace professional medical counsel. Always consult your physician regarding treatment risks and benefits. See our editorial standards for more details.

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Nurah Ekhlaque

Masters in Biotechnology, Guru Ghasidas University

I'm a highly motivated and skilled biotechnology professional, known for my strong background in research and laboratory work. My proficiency extends to cryosectioning, immunohistochemistry, confocal imaging, and various molecular biology techniques. I am detail-oriented and dedicated to consistently producing high-quality results.

My educational journey led me to a Master's degree in Biotechnology from Guru Ghasidas Vishwavidyalaya, India. This academic foundation, combined with my practical experience, fuels my commitment to advancing scientific research and improving human health.

My practical experience includes roles as a Research Assistant at Saarland University in Germany and as an Internship Research Trainee at the All India Institute of Medical Sciences. In these positions, I mastered the use of cryosectioning, immunohistochemistry, and various laboratory techniques, consistently delivering high-quality data for scientific research.

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