are migraine symptoms?
A migraine isn’t just an average headache.
Migraines are strong, pounding headaches typically on one side of the head.
Migraines usually include several other
symptoms. They’re sometimes preceded by warning symptoms called aura. These
symptoms may include flashes of light, visual “floaters,” or tingling
sensations in your arms and legs.
Migraine episodes, which can last for hours or
days, can greatly affect your life. According to the
National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke, migraines are experienced by 12 percent of the U.S. adult
population. Many of these migraines are caused by the activation of nerve
fibers in the blood vessels of the brain.
The classic migraine evolves through four separate
stage. Each stage has different symptoms. These stages include:
- the prodrome (premonitory) stage
- the aura (visual symptoms or tingling)
- the headache (main attack) stage
- the postdrome (recovery) stage
Not all people who get migraines experience
all of the stages.
The premonitory or prodrome stage can start
anywhere from one hour to two days before your migraine begins. Symptoms that
may indicate that a migraine is coming on include:
- mood changes, such as
anxiety or depression
- craving for sugary foods
- tight or sore neck
- frequent yawning
The aura stage happens right before or during
a migraine. Auras are usually visual disturbances, but can involve other
sensations. Symptoms build up gradually and last for about 20 to 60 minutes. About
percent of people who experience migraine have
migraine with aura.
Symptoms of an aura can include:
- seeing bright spots or flashes of light
- vision loss or seeing dark spots
- tingling sensations in an arm or leg described
as “pins and needles”
- speech problems or inability to speak (aphasia)
- ringing in the ears (tinnitus)
Main attack stage
The attack stage includes the headache and
other symptoms. It can last for a few hours to a few days.
During an attack, you might experience the
- pulsating or throbbing pain on one or both sides
of the head
- extreme sensitivity to light, sounds, or smells
- worsening pain during physical activity
- nausea and vomiting
- abdominal pain or heartburn
- loss of appetite
- blurred vision
If you have a migraine, you’ll often feel the need
to lie down in the dark and quiet to escape from light, sounds, and movement.
This is one of the main differences between migraines and other types of
headaches. Fortunately, you may find that sleeping for an hour or two can help
end an attack.
During the recovery (postdrome) stage, you may
feel tired and drained. The migraine fades slowly. Some people report feelings
vs. tension headaches
Tension headaches and migraines may cause very
similar symptoms. Migraine symptoms tend to be more severe than tension
With a tension headache, your pain is usually
mild to moderate throughout your head, and disappears within a few hours. Migraines
tend to last longer and are often debilitating.
Tension headaches don’t typically cause any visual
side effects like aura or physical side effects like nausea or vomiting. Tension
headaches can make you feel sensitive to light or sound but usually not both.
Sinus headaches are often confused for
migraines because they share many symptoms, including pressure in the sinuses
and watery eyes. Sinus headaches are usually only moderately painful and can be
treated with sinus treatments or other allergy medications.
vs. cluster headaches
Cluster headaches differ from migraines mainly
in that they follow patterns of occurrence. They “cluster” together in short,
episodic attacks during a period of weeks or months. Sometimes, an entire year
can pass between two headache clusters. Migraines tend not to follow this kind
Symptoms of migraines and cluster headaches
are similar. In both cases, pain is severe. Cluster headaches can cause many
distinct symptoms that migraines don't cause, including:
- red, bloodshot eyes
- swelling of the eyelids
- shrinking of the pupil
- runny nose or congestion
- drooping of the eyelids
- agitation, annoyance, or
restlessness during a headache
If you observe any of these symptoms during a
severe headache, you’re likely experiencing a cluster headache, not a migraine.
Your doctor can usually diagnose cluster headaches by examining the nerves in
your eye or discovering an abnormality during MRI scans linked to cluster
headaches. Talk to your doctor about getting checked for cluster headaches if
you have these symptoms.
Relief and treatment
Medications for pain relief may be enough to
treat your symptoms. Common pain relievers that can help migraine symptoms
- acetaminophen (Tylenol)
- Excedrin (aspirin, acetaminophen, and caffeine)
If your pain continues, talk to your doctor
about other treatment options.
If you have at least six migraines per month
or three migraines a month that severely interfere with your daily life, your
doctor may recommend preventive medications that are effective against migraine
- beta-blockers, such as propranolol or timolol, for high blood
pressure or coronary diseases
- calcium channel blockers, such as verapamil, for high blood
- tricyclic antidepressants, such as amitriptyline, for
controlling serotonin and other chemicals in your brain
- antiseizure drugs, such as valproate (in moderate doses)
- pain relievers, such as naproxen
There can be side effects of these
medications. Also, talk to your doctor about lifestyle changes that can help
decrease migraines. Things like quitting smoking, getting plenty of sleep,
avoiding triggers from certain foods, and staying hydrated can be useful.
Some alternative medicines are often used to
aid in relieving migraine symptoms, including:
- cognitive behavioral therapy, a type of therapy that instructs
you on how your behavior and thinking can change the way you perceive your
- herbs, such as feverfew
- riboflavin (B-2)
- magnesium supplements (if you have low levels of magnesium in
Your doctor may recommend that you try these
alternative options if medicinal treatments aren’t working for you or if you
want to take greater control of preventive care for your migraines.
in children and teens
10 percent of children and teens
experience migraines. Symptoms are generally similar to migraines in adults.
Teens are also more likely to have chronic
migraine (CM), which causes migraines for several hours a day for over 15 days
of the month across three or more months. CM may cause your child to miss
school or social activities.
Migraines can be passed on genetically. If you
or your child’s other biological parent has a history of migraines, your child
has a 50
percent chance of having them. If both
you and the other parent have a migraine history, your child has a 75 percent
chance. Plus, many things can trigger your child’s migraines, including:
- medications, including birth control and asthma treatment
- routine changes
Find out what’s causing your child’s migraine,
then talk to your doctor about the best way to treat and prevent migraines. In
addition to medications, your doctor may recommend relaxation techniques and
preventive therapy so that your child can better understand and manage their
Migraine pain can be severe, and often
is more likely to occur in those who
experience migraines than those who do not. Medications and other treatments are
available to reduce the frequency and severity of your migraines.
If you regularly get migraines, make an
appointment with your doctor to discuss your symptoms and a treatment