We know all migraine attacks can be pretty awful. If you are living with migraine, you’ll be all too aware of how painful and debilitating it can be. You’ll also know that migraine is not just a headache.
The most recognizable migraine symptom is usually an intense, throbbing headache, which is typically felt on one side of the head and feels worse when moving.1
A throbbing headache, sensitivity to light and noise, feeling sick (nausea), being sick (vomiting) and lack of energy (lethargy) are the most common symptoms of a migraine attack.2 Other symptoms of migraine can include:1,3
- Abdominal pain
- Disruption in balance and/or dizziness
- Feeling very hot or very cold
- Poor concentration
- Sensitivity to smells
- Stiffness of the neck and shoulders
- Blurred vision
It is worth noting that there are also symptoms that are specific to different migraine types. It is important to understand your symptoms because it is essential for getting the right diagnosis and treatment.2
While symptoms occur during the migraine attack itself, some people experience other symptoms ahead of an attack during the prodrome stage sometimes followed by an aura. These usually occur a few hours or days before the migraine attack and can include changes in mood, appetite and energy levels.1
It may sound like a strange, mystical event, but ‘aura’ is simply a term used to describe a range of temporary warning symptoms that occur before a migraine.1 People who experience them often describe the symptoms of a migraine aura as:1
- Visual disturbances – for example seeing flashing lights, zig-zag patterns or blind spots
- Numbness or a tingling sensation much like pins and needles – this typically starts in one hand and moves up the arm before affecting the face
- Feeling dizzy
- Difficulty speaking
- Loss of consciousness – although this is rare
Aura symptoms usually last anywhere between five minutes to an hour. While often a warning sign of an imminent migraine attack, they can lead to a mild migraine or no headache at all.1
Migraine tends to develop in early adulthood4 and can be particularly unsettling or scary when the symptoms initially begin. Knowing what is happening and what to expect during an attack, may help manage this fear.
Understanding migraine symptoms and causes also enables you to explain the condition to friends, family and/or colleagues.
This is really important if you feel you are missing out on specific occasions, or unable to fulfil social or work commitments due to migraine.
Migraine attacks can come in four key stages, though you may not experience every one:1,2
1: The Warning
The warning (otherwise known as the ‘prodrome’ stage) sees a person living with migraine experiencing physiological changes, such as shifts in appetite, mood and energy. This usually occurs for a few hours to a few days before an attack
2: The Aura Stage
In the aura stage some may experience neurological symptoms, such as flashes of light and/or blind spots. Although, since not all types of migraine feature an aura, this may not happen to everyone
3: The Main Attack Stage
The migraine headache or main attack stage, brings a painful throbbing headache typically on one side of the head. This is usually accompanied by other symptoms, such as nausea and/or light and sound sensitivity
4: The Recovery Stage
Recovery or ‘postdrome’ stage can last a few hours or several days after the main attack has ended. Symptoms are similar to those felt in the first stage of the migraine attack or can feature mirrored symptoms to the first stage, such as hunger after a loss of appetite in the first stage.
Don’t let migraine go undiagnosed, make an appointment with your doctor. If your symptoms include any of those listed below this may be a sign of a more serious condition; you should seek immediate medical help if you experience:1
- A sudden agonizing headache, unlike anything experienced before
- Headache with fever, stiff neck, mental confusion, seizures, double vision, weakness or numbness
- Trouble speaking
- Paralysis or weakness in one or both arms and/or one side of the face
Even if you have a history of headaches, see your doctor or another healthcare professional if the pattern changes or your headaches suddenly feel different.
- NHS Choices. Migraine symptoms. http://www.nhs.uk/conditions/migraine/Pages/symptoms.aspx [Last Accessed: October 2017]
- The Migraine Trust. Symptoms and stages https://www.migrainetrust.org/about-migraine/migraine-what-is-it/symptoms-and-stages/ [Last Accessed: October 2017]
- The Migraine Association of Ireland. Migraines without aura. http://www.migraine.ie/types-of-migraine/migraine-without-aura/ [Last Accessed: October2017]
- NHS Choices. Migraine. http://www.nhs.uk/Conditions/Migraine/Pages/Introduction.aspx [Last Accessed: October 2017]
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