Cranial autonomic symptoms: prevalence, phenotype and laterality in migraine and two potentially new symptoms

Nazia Karsan, Karthik Nagaraj, Peter J. Goadsby*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

15 Citations (Scopus)


Background: Whilst cranial autonomic symptoms (CAS) are typically associated with trigeminal autonomic cephalalgias (TAC’s), they have also been reported in migraine. Identification and understanding of these symptoms in migraine is important to ensure timely diagnosis and effective management. Methods: Migraineurs seen in a tertiary headache service between 2014 and 2018 (n = 340): cohort one, and a separate cohort of headache patients seen between 2014-May 2021 reporting voice change, or throat swelling, or both, as CAS were selected (n = 64): cohort two. We performed a service evaluation of our records regarding age, sex, diagnosis, headache and CAS frequency and laterality as acquired from the first consultation, during which a detailed headache history is taken by a headache trained physician. Results: Cohort 1: Mean age 43 (range 14–94, SD 15). The most common diagnosis was chronic migraine (78%). Median monthly headache frequency was 26 days (IQR 15–75). At least one CAS was reported in 74%, with a median of two (IQR 0–3). The most common were nasal congestion (32%), lacrimation (31%) and aural fullness (25%). Most patients reported their most common headache as unilateral (80%) and with it strictly unilateral CAS (64%). There was a positive association between headache and CAS laterality (χ21 = 20.7, P < 0.001), with a positive correlation between baseline headache frequency and number of CAS reported (r = 0.11, P = 0.047). Cohort two: mean age 49 (range 23–83, SD 14). Diagnoses were chronic migraine (50%), chronic cluster headache (11%), undifferentiated continuous lateralised headache (9%), SUNCT/SUNA (8%), hemicrania continua (8%), episodic migraine (8%), episodic cluster headache (3%) and trigeminal neuropathies (3%). Most (89%) described trigeminal distribution pain; 25% involving all three divisions. Throat swelling was reported by 54, voice change by 17, and both by 7. The most common CAS reported were lacrimation (n = 47), facial swelling (n = 45) and rhinorrhoea (n = 37). There was significant agreement between the co-reporting of throat swelling (χ21 = 7.59, P = 0.013) and voice change (χ21 = 6.49, P = 0.02) with aural fullness. Conclusions: CAS are common in migraine, are associated with increasing headache frequency and tend to lateralise with headache. Voice change and throat swelling should be recognized as possible parasympathetically-mediated CAS. They may be co-associated and associated with aural fullness, suggesting a broadly somatotopic endophenotype.

Original languageEnglish
Article number18
JournalJournal of Headache and Pain
Issue number1
Early online date29 Jan 2022
Publication statusE-pub ahead of print - 29 Jan 2022


  • Cranial autonomic
  • Headache
  • Migraine
  • TAC
  • Throat swelling
  • Trigeminal
  • Voice change


Dive into the research topics of 'Cranial autonomic symptoms: prevalence, phenotype and laterality in migraine and two potentially new symptoms'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

Cite this