Migraine Medical Terms Glossary Index

Patient Expert
Medically Reviewed

When we talk with our doctors or other health care professionals about migraine, it can be very helpful to understand some of the terms they use.

We've been putting together a glossary of terms that are sometimes used in the discussion of Migraine. For each term, you'll find a definition, how it relates to migraine, and links that relate to it. Below is the index of our glossary.

Please check back on a regular basis, as we continue to add terms to our glossary.

ABCDE • F • GHI • J • K • LM

NOP • Q • RSTUVW • X • Y • Z


  • Abdominal migraine is a type of migraine occurring mainly in childhood, characterized by nausea, vomiting, abdominal pain, and sometimes diarrhea, but with little or no headache. Children with abdominal migraine may develop more typical migraine attacks as they get older.
  • Abortive medications are medications that work in the brain to stop the migrainous process and its symptoms.
  • Acupressure is a form of treatment for pain that involves pressure on particular points in the body know as "acupressure points". Stems from traditional Chinese medicine.
  • Acupuncture is a form of treatment for pain that involves insertion of fine needles into particular points in the body known as "acupuncture points." Stems from traditional Chinese medicine.
  • Acute is something characterized by sharpness or severity (acute pain); having a sudden onset, sharp rise, and short course (an acute disease); or providing or concerned with short-term medical care especially for serious acute disease or trauma (acute care, acute medication).
  • Adverse reaction is an undesired side effect caused by a treatment.
  • Allodynia is a condition in which an ordinarily painless stimulus is experienced as being painful.
  • Analgesics are medications that relieve pain without the effects of anesthesia.
  • Aneurysm is a congenital weak point in the wall of an artery that may bulge outwards, rupture and bleed, causing what is called a "subarachnoid hemorrhage." Produces a severe headache and stiff neck and can be fatal.
  • Antibody are any of a large number of proteins of high molecular weight that are produced normally by specialized B cells after stimulation by an antigen and act specifically against the antigen in an immune response.
  • Antiemetic is a medication taken to prevent or treat nausea and vomiting.
  • Aphasia is loss or impairment of the power to use or comprehend words.
  • Aromatherapy is the art and science of using essential oils from plant sources for health and well-being.
  • Ataxia is an unsteadiness due to the brain's failure to regulate the body's posture and regulate the strength and direction of limb movements.
  • Auditory hallucinations are sounds that aren't really occurring.
  • Aura may present with varying symptoms including visual aura in which the patient sees flashing lights or zigzag lines, or may temporarily lose vision; auditory aura in which the patient hears unusual sounds; and olfactory aura in which the patient smells odors that aren't actually present.


  • Bilateral means affecting both sides.
  • Biomarkers are a distinctive biological or biologically derived indicator of a process, event, or condition.


  • CGRP is an acronym for calcitonin gene-related peptide. It's an amino acid peptide that is naturally produced by our bodies.
  • Cardiovascular means relating to or involving the heart and blood vessels.
  • Cerebrospinal fluid is a serum-like fluid that circulates through the ventricles of the brain, the cavity of the spinal cord, and the subarachnoid space. It acts somewhat like a shock absorber for protection. CSF contains proteins and other important chemicals, known as biomarkers, that may indicate the existence of a disease process, such as meningitis.
  • Classic migraine is an older term for migraine with aura.
  • Common migraine is an older term for migraine without aura.
  • Comorbid means existing simultaneously with and usually independently of another medical condition. This means that a person can have two or more conditions at the same time, but none of them causes any of the others.
  • Contraindication is a circumstance under which a medication or treatment should not be used or could be harmful.
  • Cortical spreading depression is a wave of abnormal electrical activity that sweeps the brain when a migraine trigger is encountered.
  • Craniotomy is the surgical opening of the skull.
  • Cutaneous means pertaining to the skin.


  • Diplopia is seeing two images of an object at the same time, double vision.
  • Dopamine is a neurotransmitter, one of the chemicals in the brain responsible for transmitting signals between neurons (nerve cells). Dopamine is sometimes referred to as the “feel good” neurotransmitter because it helps regulate emotions, motivation, and sensory perception.
  • Dura is the outermost of the three membranes that cover the brain and spinal cord. It is also the toughest and most fibrous of the three. Dura mater comes from the Latin for "hard mother."
  • Dysarthria is an impairment or clumsiness in the speaking of words due to diseases that affect the oral, lingual, or pharyngeal muscles.
  • Dyskinesia is the difficulty or distortion of voluntary movements, as in tic, chorea, spasm, or myoclonus.


  • Edema is a local or generalized condition in which the body tissues contain an excessive amount of tissue fluid. Although many people think of edema as occurring only in the extremities, such as legs and ankles, it can occur in most body tissues.
  • Efficacy is the ability of a medication or treatment to produce the desired results.
  • Epidemiology is the study of how and why diseases occur.
  • Episodic means occurring in episodes, coming and going with no discernable pattern.


  • Gastroparesis is a partial paralysis of the stomach most often characterized by nausea, vomiting, and abdominal distension after eating.
  • Gray matter is "neural tissue especially of the brain and spinal cord that contains cell bodies as well as nerve fibers, has a brownish gray color, and forms most of the cortex and nuclei of the brain, the columns of the spinal cord, and the bodies of ganglia.


  • Half-life is the time required for half the amount of a medication to be eliminated or disintegrated by natural processes.
  • Hematoma is a mass of blood, usually clotted blood, resulting from a broken blood vessel, that forms in a tissue, organ.
  • Hemiparesis is muscular weakness or partial paralysis restricted to one side of the body.
  • Hemiplegia is temporary paralysis on one side of the body.
  • Hyperalgesia is increased sensitivity to pain or enhanced intensity of pain.
  • Hypoacousia is impaired or partial loss of hearing.


  • Idiopathic means of unknown origin, occurring spontaneously and not traceable to a direct cause.
  • Interictal is the period of time between events, attacks, or episodes.
  • Intracranial means within the cranium (skull).
  • Intractable migraine is a migraine that doesn't respond to "regular" migraine treatments.
  • Ipsilateral means the same side; affecting the same side of the body.
  • Ischemic strokes occur when the blood supply to the part of the brain is suddenly interrupted.


  • Lacrimation is tearing of the eye or eyes.
  • Locus of control is the extent to which we perceive that outcomes in our lives result from our own choices and behaviors (internal locus of control) or from outside forces (external locus of control).


  • Miosis is abnormal contraction of the pupils.
  • Monocular means occurring in or affecting one eye.


  • Neuropeptides are small endogenous protein-like molecules that act as neurotransmitters.
  • Neurotransmitters are chemicals that occurr naturally in the brain and facilitate transmitting messages from one nerve cell to another.


  • Off-label prescribing is prescribing medications for conditions other than those for which they have been FDA-approved. This is a common practice.
  • Orbit is the the bony pyramid-shaped cavity of the skull that contains and protects the eye.
  • Osmophobia is increased sensitivity to odors.


  • Papilledema is the swelling of the optic nerve.
  • Paresthesia is abnormal or unpleasant sensation often described as numbness or as a prickly, stinging, or burning feeling.
  • Pathophysiology is functional changes associated with or resulting from disease or injury and the study of those changes.
  • Phonophobia is increased and often painful sensitivity to sound.
  • Photophobia is increased and often painful sensitivity to light.
  • Placebo is an inactive pill, liquid, or powder that has no treatment value. In clinical trials, experimental treatments are often compared with placebos to assess the treatment's effectiveness.
  • Polymorphism can have two meanings. It can mean the existence of a gene in several allelic (alternative forms of a gene that may occur at a specific locus) forms or a variation in a specific sequence of DNA.
  • Postdrome is the fourth of four potential phases of a migraine attack. Many people describe postdrome as feeling "like a zombie" or "hung-over." These feelings are often attributed to medications taken to treat the migraine, but may well be caused by the Migraine itself. Postdrome symptoms may continue for up to 24 hours after the end of the headache stage.
  • Prevalence is the percentage of a population that is affected with a particular disease or condition.
  • Preventive medications are taken daily to reduce the frequency and severity of Migraine attacks and headaches
  • Primary headache is a headache not caused by another illness or disorder.
  • Prodrome is the first of four potential phases of a migraine attack. It's sometimes called the premonitory phase. Potential symptoms of prodrome include food cravings, constipation or diarrhea, mood changes, muscle stiffness, fatigue, increased frequency of urination, and yawning.
  • Ptosis is dropping or drooping of an organ or part, as the upper eyelid from paralysis, or the visceral organs from weakness of the abdominal muscles.
  • Pulsatile is a pulsing quality; having a rhythm or beat.


  • Receptors are structures either inside or on the surface of a cell that selectively receive and bind a specific substance.
  • Referred pain is pain perceived as occurring in a part of the body other than its true source.
  • Refractory means resistant to treatment.
  • Rescue medications are those taken if abortive medications fail or if we can't take the abortive medications. Most rescue medications are pain medications.
  • Rhinorrhea is a thin watery discharge from the nose, "runny nose."


  • Scintillation is the perception of twinkling light of varying intensity that can occur during the migraine aura.
  • Scotoma is an area of decreased or lost vision.
  • Serotonin is a naturally occurring chemical found in the cells of the brain, in platelets, and in the intestine. In the central nervous system, it is a key neurotransmitter. In the blood vessels, it is released from platelets when blood vessel walls are damaged. Serotonin is also called 5-hydroxytriptamine.
  • Serotonin syndrome is a potentially dangerous condition that develops when taking some migraine abortive medications , antidepressants, and/or some other medications together.
  • Side effects are any undesired actions or effects of a drug or treatment. Negative or adverse effects may include headache, nausea, hair loss, skin irritation, or other physical problems.
  • Subcutaneous means under the skin.
  • Supraorbital means above the orbit (eye socket).


  • Temporal means related to one or both temples.
  • Tinnitus is the sensation of noise such as a ringing or roaring in the ears.
  • Titrate is the gradual and progessive act of adjusting medication dosage until it reaches the desired effect.
  • Trigger is a physiological stimulus which, when encountered, can trigger a headache or migraine attack.
  • Trigeminal nerve is the fifth cranial nerve, a major nerve of the face and head. Related to nerve impulses that direct the muscles for jaw movement. The trigeminal nerve has three branches: one runs over they eyes, one over the sinuses, one along the jaw.


  • Unilateral means on one side.


  • Vertigo is the sensation of spinning or whirling. Vertigo is not the same as light-headedness or dizziness. People with vertigo feel as though they are actually spinning or moving, or that the world is spinning around them.


  • Whiplash is an injury resulting from a sudden, sharp, "whipping" movement of the head and neck.
  • White matter is tissue found in the brain consisting of nerve fibers (axons) that are surrounded by myelin.