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Symptoms of Migraine

A migraine is more than just a really bad headache. It is a severe and oft debilitating head pain that is usually accompanied by a myriad of other symptoms. Approximately 30 million people in America suffer from migraines, and the majority of them are women. Recognizing the signs of an impending migraine can help you take steps to prevent one from occurring.

The progression of migraine attacks is divided into four stages: prodrome, aura, attack, and postdrome. Each person is different, and you may experience all four or only one of these stages. Here is a description of each stage to help you successfully manage your medical condition.


This is the premonitory stage that starts anywhere from 2 hours to 2 days before the onset of the aura or head pain stages. About 60 percent of the people who suffer from migraines report going through this phase. Symptoms vary from person to person and can include:

  • Feeling depressed or hyperactive
  • Gastrointestinal problems like constipation and diarrhea
  • Irritability
  • Stiffness in the neck
  • Food cravings
  • Euphoric feeling
  • Fatigue
  • Sensitivity to certain smells or noise
  • Restlessness or nervousness
  • Abnormal thirst or hunger
  • Loss of appetite


People who don’t go through the prodrome stage will often still experience an aura prior to the onset of a migraine. Auras are typically visual disturbances that may encompass vision loss or seeing bright spots, shapes, and flashes of light. A person may also experience verbal and physical disturbances such as being unable to speak properly and the sensation of pens and needles in the extremities. This stage usually lasts 10 to 30 minutes.


An untreated migraine will last anywhere from 4 hours to 3 days. Taking medication before or during the attack may reduce the duration and severity of the migraine. In addition to intense head pain, a person may experience some or all of the following symptoms:

  • Gastrointestinal distress such as diarrhea, nausea, or vomiting
  • Pulsating pain on the side of the head that may worsen with physical activity
  • Pain behind the eyes
  • Blurry vision
  • Hypersensitivity to light and sound (and occasionally scents)
  • Lightheadedness which may lead to fainting spells
  • Facial pallor
  • Sweating
  • Nasal congestion
  • Frequent urination
  • Scalp feels tender and swollen

Less commonly, a person having a migraine may experience stroke-like symptoms including difficulty speaking, weakness on one side of the body, and tingling in the face, shoulders, and arms. These symptoms generally pass when the attack subsides. If they don’t or you are experiencing them for the first time, seek immediate medical attention to ensure you are not actually having a stroke, transient ischemic attack, or other serious medical problem.


Some people may continue to have migraine symptoms long after the severe head pain has passed. Many sufferers report feeling as though they were hung over, fatigued and experiencing lingering pain. Other aftereffects felt during the postdrome stage include continued gastrointestinal issues, weakness, cognitive difficulties, depression, and general malaise. Conversely, some people report feeling refreshed and unusually euphoric.

Treatment Options

The primary focus of migraine treatment is on prevention, particularly for people who suffer from two or more attacks per week. There are a number of reasons for this, but the most pressing one is to avoid overuse of headache medication, which can have adverse effects on the person’s overall health. Depending on the frequency, severity, and duration of migraines, doctors will usually first prescribe medications that have been shown to thwart the onset of these intense headaches. A few popular ones include topiramate, propranolol, and timolol. These medicines should be taken at the first sign of an impending migraine.

Other treatment methods for preventing or taming migraines include the use of medical devices like biofeedback and neurostimulation.  Butterbur and feverfew are two herbal supplements that have properties proven to be moderately successful at curbing the frequency of attacks.

The doctor will also likely recommend lifestyle changes that further assist in reducing migraines. Changing eating habits, participating in moderate physical activity like walking, switching to a gluten-free diet, reducing stress, and getting plenty of sleep are just a few things a person can do to lower the risk of having a migraine attack.

It is important to work with a licensed healthcare professional that has experience treating patients suffering from migraines. The doctor can assist you with developing a customized prevention and treatment program that goes a long way towards helping you overcome your condition and live a normal life.

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