Migraine with brainstem aura

Handb Clin Neurol. 2024:199:367-379. doi: 10.1016/B978-0-12-823357-3.00019-7.


Migraine with brainstem aura has been long described but remains poorly understood. Previously known as "basilar" or "basilar artery" migraine, it is an uncommon subtype of migraine with aura, one seen primarily in children, adolescents, and younger adults. The condition is characterized by migraine headache accompanied by several neurological symptoms conventionally assigned to dysfunction of brainstem structures. Initially felt to be vascular in origin, partly due to prevailing concepts of migraine pathophysiology at the time, most now believe the aura symptoms of migraine with brainstem aura are secondary to neural circuitry dysfunction. The differential diagnosis is reasonably broad, and most patients warrant investigation to exclude conditions bearing high degrees of morbidity and mortality. Neuroimaging, specifically brain MRI without contrast, is recommended for migraine with brainstem aura. Depending on the clinical presentation certain cases may require consideration of contrasted or vascular imaging, EEG, or lumbar puncture with cerebrospinal fluid analysis. Migraine prophylaxis should involve lifestyle adjustments and preventive medical therapies shown to be effective in clinical trials of migraine, following evidence-based guidelines. The acute pharmacological management of attacks of migraine with brainstem aura remains a matter of controversy. The prognosis is generally favorable. Future refinements in the diagnostic criteria might possibly enhance diagnostic specificity and improved clinical research.

Keywords: Aura; Basilar artery; Basilar-type; Brainstem; Migraine; Vertigo.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Adult
  • Brain Stem
  • Child
  • Epilepsy*
  • Humans
  • Magnetic Resonance Imaging
  • Migraine Disorders*
  • Migraine with Aura* / diagnosis
  • Migraine with Aura* / therapy