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) or have any symptoms other than a headache. 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.
A day or two before you get a migraine, you might notice:
- A brief period of depression
- Less of an appetite
- Food cravings
- Stiff neck
- Yawning a lot
- You’re thirstier and pee more
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
This is the headache itself. Most of the time:
- It’s usually a moderate to severe throbbing or pulsing pain.
- It affects one side of your head or one eye.
- It can last from 4 to 72 hours.
- You may be extra-sensitive to light; so much so that you may need to retreat to a darkened room.
- You may also be 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.
This is the last phase. It usually lasts about 24 hours after the headache ends. You might feel:
- Drained and washed out
- Sensitive to light and sound
Getting a handle on your migraine attacks starts with keeping a headache diary. Keeping track of your symptoms:
- Helps you recognize your migraine triggers
- Shows you any patterns there may be to your attacks
- Tracks how long your headaches last and how severe your symptoms are
- Allows your doctor to make an accurate diagnosis
- Lets you and your doctor know how well your treatment is working
You can experiment with what information is most helpful to include in your diary. These things may help you form a clear picture of your headache patterns:
- The date, including the day of the week
- The time your headache starts
- Where the pain is
- How long it lasts
- How severe it is (You can use a number scale, or describe a range, such as mild to severe.)
- Symptoms that go along with the headache (For example, vision problems, upset stomach, or light sensitivity)
- Any special conditions that may be a trigger (For example, stressful situations, changes in your sleep pattern, your menstrual cycle, or medications you’ve taken)
You can keep a diary in whatever way is easiest for you. You can write your symptoms down in a notebook, make a spreadsheet on your computer, or download a tracking app for your phone. You can also print this migraine headache diary and use it to keep track of headaches or migraines.
Get Emergency Medical Help Right Away if You Have:
- Abrupt, severe headaches
- Confusion or trouble talking or understanding what others say
- Headaches that begin for the first time after age 50
- Headaches that start when you’re active, straining, coughing, or having sex
- Changes in your vision
- A body part that is numb, weak, or that you can’t move
- Trouble with balance and walking
- A fever or stiff neck
- Prolonged vomiting with a headache
- Headaches that start after an injury
- Headaches that are more severe than or different from your regular headache pattern
- A new headache and you are pregnant
- A seizure or you pass out