Signs of a Migraine That Aren't Headache

Medically Reviewed by Jennifer Robinson, MD on September 22, 2023
4 min read

If you're like a lot of other people, you probably think a migraine means you've got a splitting headache. But there's a lot more to it than that. Along with the pain, your body will send you other signs, from shifts in your spirits to feeling sick to your stomach. The sooner you recognize what's happening, the quicker you can get the right kind of relief.

A change in mood is part of the migraine package for about 60% of people. When it happens before a migraine hits, doctors call it "prodrome." A mood swing after a migraine eases is called "postdrome."

Researchers haven't fully connected the dots between migraine headaches and moodiness. But whatever the reasons, your mood may shift in a variety of ways. You may:

  • Feel hyperactive
  • Find it hard to think
  • Have trouble concentrating
  • Get depressed or anxious
  • Feel cheerful

About 25% of people who get a migraine have visual changes that are known as auras. You may see spots, wavy or jagged lines, or flashing lights. The symptoms usually ease in under an hour.

Auras can also happen before a migraine headache hits, serving as a warning sign. In some cases, you may get an aura without a headache.

Besides vision issues, some aura symptoms you may notice are:

  • Numbness or feeling of pins and needles in your arm or leg
  • Verbal quirks that make it hard to speak
  • Limb weakness or jerking

You may find that these feelings begin slowly and build up over several minutes. They can last up to an hour.

Lots of folks with migraines get nauseated or throw up. The possible culprit: sudden changes in brain chemistry that affect your brain vomiting center.

About 80% of people who get migraine headaches are sensitive to light. That's called photophobia. People who get attacks only from time to time are less likely to be light-sensitive than those who have chronic migraines.

Researchers think photophobia starts in your optic nerve, which carries messages from your eyes to your brain. The response can be so severe that you may need to wear dark sunglasses or lie down in a dark room to feel better. You can also try window blinds and soft lighting. And avoid glare when looking at screens.

Being sensitive to loud noises, called phonophobia, often comes along with light sensitivity. Try to avoid those noises or use a white noise machine. But you may not want to avoid all sound. If you surround yourself with silence, you can become even more sensitive, and that could lead to headaches that are more painful.

Migraine headaches are sometimes misdiagnosed as a sinus headache or a tension-type headache. That's because migraines can give you pain in your sinus, jaw, or neck area.

When you have a full-blown attack, you may be sensitive to anything or anyone touching your head. The reason? Many researchers point to unusual changes in levels of substances that are naturally made in your brain. When the levels go up, they can cause inflammation and irritate nearby nerves, causing pain.

Alice in Wonderland syndrome (AIWS) is a disorder marked by changes in how you see the world, especially your own body. It can happen when you have a migraine or another health condition. Doctors think it might be a type of migraine aura.

Alice in Wonderland syndrome involves changes to parts of your brain that deal with sensory information -- what you see and hear. Strange things may happen when you have an episode, including:

  • Your body parts or things around you look bigger, smaller, closer, or farther away than they really are.
  • Straight lines look wavy.
  • Things that are still seem to move.
  • Three-dimensional objects look flat.
  • Things change colors or tilt to the side.
  • Faces look distorted.
  • Colors look extra bright.
  • People and objects look stretched out.
  • Time seems to drag or fly.
  • Certain things don’t sound right.
  • Objects feel different than they should.
  • You see things that aren’t there (hallucination) or get the wrong impression of a situation or event.

There are still more ways you might feel when you get a migraine. Some things to watch out for:

  • Bigger appetite
  • Sweating or cold hands
  • Pale facial color
  • Drowsiness or depression
  • Restlessness
  • Sense of well-being
  • Surge of energy
  • Excessive yawning

No matter how you feel, it's a good idea to keep a diary of your symptoms. Take it with you when you see your doctor so you can give them an accurate update on what's been going on. It will help them make the right diagnosis and put you on the road to relief.