Timeline of a Migraine

Medically Reviewed by Melinda Ratini, MS, DO on April 28, 2021

Migraine is different for everyone. But many times, an attack follows the same pattern.

A typical migraine can have up to four phases:

  • Prodrome phase
  • Aura
  • Headache
  • Postdrome phase

Knowing more about these can help you predict and prepare for an attack.

Prodrome Phase

Before migraine pain hits, you may go through this, which is also called a “preheadache” phase. It can last from an hour up to a day or more.

The warning signs you have will be unique to you. Common ones include:

  • Feeling irritable, sudden mood changes
  • Yawning a lot
  • Needing to pee more than usual
  • Craving certain foods
  • Extra sensitivity to light or sound
  • Trouble concentrating
  • Feeling tired and stiff
  • Trouble talking or reading
  • Nausea
  • Problems sleeping  

Once you know the symptoms of your prodrome phase, you may be able to figure out steps that could ease your migraine attack or even stop it from happening.

Those steps may include:

  • Medication
  • Relaxation techniques like meditation
  • Avoiding triggers you know will make your migraine worse


Aura Phase

Up to a third of people with migraines get an aura along with it. An aura typically happens before your migraine pain and could last anywhere from 5 minutes to more than an hour. Some people get them after their pain has already started.

Most of the symptoms of an aura have to do with your sight. They might include:

  • Blurry vision
  • Blind spots in one or both eyes
  • Flashing lights
  • Zigzags or patterns in your sight

You can also have some symptoms that don’t have anything to do with your sight, like:

  • Numbness or tingling
  • Vertigo
  • Weakness
  • Trouble speaking or hearing
  • Memory problems

There’s not much you can do to keep an aura from happening. But knowing that a migraine will follow an aura can help you know it’s time to take medication that may ease or prevent oncoming migraine pain.

These same symptoms can also signal a stroke, so if a doctor hasn’t diagnosed these as part of your migraine, get medical help right away.

Headache Phase

This is when you usually have throbbing, pulsing pain on one or both sides of your head. You may only have this pain for a few hours, or it may go on for several days. It may be minor, or it could be very severe.

Other symptoms you could have, either with or without head pain, include:

  • Sensitivity to lights, sounds, and smells
  • Nausea or vomiting
  • Blurred vision
  • Lightheadedness and fainting

Your doctor can help you choose medication to make what you go through less severe. You can also lie in a dark and quiet room and put a cold washcloth to the back of your neck, or practice other relaxation techniques to keep symptoms from getting too bad.

Postdrome Phase

Once your attack symptoms go away, your migraine may not be over. The last phase is the postdrome phase, also known as a “migraine hangover.” It’s common to have a postdrome phase, but you may not.

It doesn’t involve pain like the headache phase, but it can cause its own symptoms for 24 to 48 hours after your migraine ends. These symptoms can include:

  • Trouble concentrating
  • Fatigue
  • Depression
  • Euphoria
  • Trouble understanding things
  • Body aches
  • Dizziness
  • Sensitivity to light

Even though your migraine attack is over at this point, it’s still a good idea to stay away from migraine triggers, like bright light, certain smells, or certain foods.

You can try gentle stretching or yoga to help with sore muscles that might have been tense during your attack.

Be sure to also drink plenty of water and avoid stress as you recover.

Show Sources


The Migraine Trust: “Symptoms and Stages of Migraine.”

American Migraine Foundation: “The Timeline of a Migraine Attack.”

Mayo Clinic: “Migraine with Aura,” “Migraine.”

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