Migraine Signs and Symptoms

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Experiencing a migraine attack can be scary, even bizarre, and this makes sense because a migraine is more than a drumming headache; it is often associated with other strange phenomena like mood changes, nausea, and auras.

You may be surprised to learn that a migraine attack occurs in phases—four, actually (although not everyone experiences all of them). These phases are:

  • Prodrome
  • Aura
  • Headache
  • Postdrome

Migraine Prodrome

The prodrome phase begins hours to days (up to two days) prior to a migraine attack.

Common signs and symptoms of the prodrome phase include:

  • Increased or decreased levels of activity from normal (e.g., feeling more energized or sleeping more)
  • Emotional changes, like experiencing a low mood
  • Food cravings
  • Nausea
  • Repetitive yawning
  • Tiredness
  • Cognitive problems—like difficulty reading and writing
  • Neck stiffness
  • Light or sound sensitivity

Migraine Aura

About one in five migraineurs experience a migraine aura—a neurological disturbance that classically entails a visual change, but may also include sensory, movement, or speech-related changes (either alone or in combination with visual changes).

Auras can be frightening, if not strange experiences. They tend to creep up slowly and be so short (a few minutes) that some people even question if it was real. Also, some people experience longer auras, up to one hour. The good news is that aura symptoms are reversible—they do go away. Examples of common aura signs and symptoms include:

  • Seeing flashing, waving, or zigzag lights or spots (sometimes they appear to march across your field of vision)
  • Blurry vision
  • Blind spots
  • Increased sensitivity to touch
  • Decreased sensation
  • Difficulty speaking or finding words
  • Seeing, hearing, or smelling things that are not there
  • Muscle weakness
  • Numbness and tingling (on the side of the body where the migraine pain is located)

Migraine Headache

The headache phase of a migraine attack is characterized by a throbbing or pulsating head pain, almost like someone is beating a drum on their brain. The pain can be pretty brutal, enough to prevent a person from working or performing their usual daily routine. But the pain is not the worst pain of their life (this would indicate a need to go to the emergency room).

Another common migraine sign is that the pain is usually worsened by everyday physical activities like walking, climbing stairs, or performing household chores. In fact, many people with migraines will opt to lie down, as simple movements can be quite aggravating.

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