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Common Migraine Headache Symptoms

Reviewed by Jennifer Robinson, MD on August 12, 2019

A migraine is a type of headache with symptoms that can differ from those of non-migraine headaches. These may include unusual symptoms that can be scary, like tingling sensations, flashing lights, weird sounds, and blurred or lost vision. In some cases, you might get nauseated and throw up, or become sensitive to light and hole up in a dark room for days. If you know your symptoms, you may be able to predict when a migraine is on the way.

Migraines can start at any age, but they’re more likely to start when you’re a teenager. You tend to get more of them in your 30s and then fewer as you get older.

Talk with your doctor about what you’re feeling, especially if you have headaches on 15 or more days per month (chronic migraine). Some symptoms can mirror those of more serious conditions that need care right away.

What Are the Symptoms?

Migraine symptoms happen in certain stages, though you might not have them all.

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Prodrome

A day or two before you get a migraine, you might notice:

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These symptoms can show up shortly before or during a headache. They usually start slowly and build. They normally last 20 minutes to an hour. You might notice:

  • Visual symptoms like flashing lights or zigzag or wavy lines. They often start around an hour or less before the headache hits.
  • Loss of vision
  • Pins and needles feeling in an arm or leg
  • Weakness or numbness on one side of your body
  • Trouble talking
  • Hearing sounds that aren’t there
  • Movements you can’t control

Attack

This is the headache itself. Most of the time:

  • It’s usually a severe throbbing or pulsing pain.
  • It affects one side of your head or one eye.
  • It can last from 4 to 72 hours.
  • You’re extra-sensitive to light; so much so that you may need to retreat to a darkened room.
  • You’re also sensitive to smells, sounds, and touch.
  • You might feel sick to your stomach or throw up.
  • You could get lightheaded or faint.
  • Your vision might get blurry.

Postdrome

This is the last phase. It usually lasts about 24 hours after the headache ends. You might feel:

  • Elated
  • Drained and washed out
  • Confused
  • Moody
  • Dizzy
  • Sensitive to light and sound

See Your Doctor Right Away If:

  • You have abrupt, severe headaches.
  • Your headaches begin for the first time after age 50.
  • Headaches start when you’re active, straining, coughing, or having sex.
  • You have these problems, and they don’t get better after the headache goes away:
    • Changes in your vision
    • A body part that is weak, or you can’t move it
    • Trouble with balance and walking
  • You get a fever or stiff neck.
  • You lose weight without trying.
  • Headaches start after an injury.
  • Headaches are more severe than or different from your regular headache pattern.
WebMD Medical Reference

Sources

SOURCES:

National Headache Foundation.

Mayo Clinic: “Migraine.”

American Migraine Foundation: “Chronic Migraine,” “Thunderclap Headache.”

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