What is a Basilar Artery Migraine?

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  • Written By: Nat Robinson
  • Edited By: Heather Bailey
  • Last Modified Date: 25 December 2018
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A basilar artery migraine (BAM) is a type of migraine that is a chronic headache. It generally causes throbbing pain on either side of the head and frequently in the back of the head where the basilar artery is located in the brain. In most cases, the migraine, which more often affect women, is caused by certain triggers. A basilar artery migraine can affect vision, hearing, walking and may debilitate a person for a temporary period. The treatment for this type of migraine may include pain medications, rest and forgoing possible migraine triggers.

It was once believed that a basilar artery migraine was caused by a spasm or disturbance in the basilar artery. Over time, the cause of this type of migraine changed to have less to do directly with the basilar artery and more to do with neurological changes that take place in the brain for a number of non-artery related reasons. For instance, the headaches may be caused by hormonal changes. Additionally, in a great majority of cases, the migraines are caused by certain triggers.

Basilar artery migraine triggers can vary. Stress is a common trigger of migraines. One may also occur due to excessive alcohol consumption, loud noises, physical exertion and hunger. Some people get migraines from a lack of sleep and tiredness. Certain foods and drinks, especially those containing caffeine, may also cause a migraine headache.


Pulsating or throbbing pain in the head is one of the most common basilar artery migraine symptoms. Individuals with this type of migraine may be unable to maintain his or her balance. Confusion, ringing in the ears, dizziness and visual disturbances are also common. Some people with this type of migraine may temporarily lose their vision and endure a loss of consciousness. This type of migraine is a frequent concern of many doctors because the symptoms can be similar to those of other neurological disorders, such as seizures and strokes.

To diagnose basilar artery migraines, doctors may ask patients to undergo different tests. Commonly, a computerized tomography (CT) scan on the head or a magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) is used to diagnose the migraine. Some physicians may also recommend having a spinal tap. This may be done to rule out the possibility of certain neurological conditions such as meningitis that may cause similar symptoms.

Basilar artery migraine treatment will often include taking pain relievers. While some suffers may benefit from over-the-counter medicines, many will need stronger medicines such as those available through prescription only. Extended periods of rest and lying in a dark silent room may also be beneficial. If a person discovers that his or her migraine is triggered by participating in certain activities, behaviors or being in a particular environment, it is generally best to avoid those triggers. As basilar artery migraines have symptoms similar to those of serious neurological conditions, symptoms should always be evaluated out by a health care professional.



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