Cyclic migraine is when a person only experiences migraine symptoms during certain periods or cycles. They do not have migraine episodes outside these periods.

Migraine is a condition that involves experiencing headaches or episodes with specific characteristics. Migraine symptoms include throbbing and pulsating pain on one side of a person’s head. They can be very painful and interfere with a person’s daily activities.

With cyclic migraine, people experience migraine symptoms in cycles. They may have symptoms that occur daily for a few weeks before being symptom-free for weeks or months at a time. Some treatments may help with cyclic migraine.

This article discusses the symptoms, causes, and triggers of cyclic migraine. It also discusses a person’s risk factors and how doctors diagnose and treat the condition.

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Common migraine symptoms include:

  • moderate or severe pain that throbs and pulsates on one side of a person’s head
  • sensitivity to:
    • smells
  • nausea and vomiting

People with cyclic migraine have symptoms during recurring periods. They have symptoms of migraine episodes that occur in patterns similar to cluster headaches.

According to the United Kingdom’s National Health Service (NHS), people may experience other symptoms before a migraine, including:

The NHS also discusses how people may also have warning signs, called auras, just before they have a migraine. These signs can include:

  • issues with sight, such as seeing:
    • flashing lights
    • zig-zag lines
  • dizziness
  • difficulty speaking

People with different kinds of migraine may have different symptoms. People with cyclic migraine usually have 10 or more episodes of migraine symptoms every month. These episodes occur daily or almost daily for several weeks. They then ease off for a few weeks or months at a time.

Scientists do not understand exactly why people get migraine.

Most scientists believe that abnormal changes in a person’s brain cause it to become inflamed. This inflammation causes the activation of nerves and the release of neurochemicals, including serotonin and CGRP, which mediate pain. Migraine may also have a genetic cause.

At present, there is little scientific research into the causes of cyclic migraine specifically.

Several factors or events may trigger a migraine. These triggers can vary from person to person, and they may not always lead to migraine.

Multiple triggers together are more likely to cause a person to have migraine. Some possible triggers include:

  • sleep disturbances
  • hormonal changes during a person’s menstrual cycle
  • missed meals
  • bright lights
  • loud noises
  • strong smells
  • stress
  • anxiety
  • relaxation after stress
  • changes in weather
  • alcohol, often red wine
  • excess caffeine or caffeine withdrawal
  • foods containing:
    • nitrates, compounds added to meats as preservatives or naturally occurring in several vegetables
    • monosodium glutamate (MSG), a flavor enhancer
    • tyramine, a naturally occurring substance present in certain foods

However, scientists have not published recent research into cyclic migraine triggers.

Read more about migraine triggers.

Although scientists do not yet know what causes migraine, there are some common risk factors for the condition. Migraine is more common among females and people between the ages of 15 and 55 years. Migraine may often become less severe and less frequent as a person gets older.

People are more likely to have migraine if they have a close family member who has the condition. There is little formal research into the specific risk factors for cyclic migraine.

Doctors diagnose migraine using the following strategies:

  • asking a person about:
    • their medical history
    • their migraine symptoms and location
    • how often they have migraine pain
    • how long have they had migraine pain for
    • whether their migraine pain occurs at any time of day
    • whether their migraine episodes have changed over time
    • any possible migraine triggers
    • any medication they take for it and how often
    • whether their migraine episodes seem related to sleep
    • any other symptoms
  • performing a physical examination
  • using imaging scans to rule out other conditions, under certain circumstances

For cyclic migraine, doctors would diagnose a person based on the frequency and patterns of their migraine.

There is little formal guidance on treatments for cyclic migraine specifically.

Older sources claim treatments for cyclic migraine include lithium. More current sources also state that lithium may help people with cyclic migraine. However, people taking this medication need careful professional monitoring of their blood level and thyroid function.

Other treatments for cyclic migraine may include some or all standard migraine treatments. These include:

  • preventive medication to stop migraine episodes from occurring
  • acute medication to relieve migraine symptoms
  • steps to ease symptoms at home, such as:
    • resting with closed eyes in a quiet, darkened room
    • drinking lots of fluids, particularly when a person is also vomiting
    • placing a cool cloth or ice pack on a person’s forehead

Read more about migraine treatments.

People with cyclic migraine have migraine symptoms that occur in periods of weeks or months at a time. Outside of these cycles, they do not have migraine.

There is little recent formal research into cyclic migraine. Treatments and diagnosis methods for migraine may help people with cyclic migraine.