How To Know It's A Migraine, Not Just A Headache: 4 Main Stages And Their Symptoms

Date June 22, 2018

Migraine headaches are very common. About 1 in 5 women and 1 in 15 men experience them from time to time. Mostly, people start to get migraines in adolescence or early adulthood.

Interestingly, some of those affected by migraines don’t even know they have them. They may get these debilitating headaches and accompanying symptoms without knowing what it really is.

In this article, we list symptoms that may precede and follow a migraine and those that mean it’s not a migraine but something much more serious.

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READ ALSO: How To Tell The Difference Between A Regular Headache And Ruptured Brain Aneurysm

4 stages of a migraine, and symptoms of each stage

Stage 1: prodrome

During the day or a few days leading up to a migraine, there may be signs that it’s about to occur. They include the following:

  • mood swings;
  • food cravings;
  • feeling thirsty and peeing more;
  • constipation;
  • yawning all the time;
  • neck stiffness.

Antonio Guillem /

Stage 2: aura

Not all people who have migraines experience aura, but it’s quite common. Aura symptoms either precede a migraine or occur simultaneously with it. They may include the following:

  • visual disturbances, e.g. zigzag vision, blind spots, or seeing various shapes or bright spots and flashes;
  • tingling in an arm or leg;
  • hearing noises or music in your head;
  • tics;
  • difficulty speaking;
  • weakness or loss of sensation in the face or one side of the body.

These symptoms may last 20 to 60 minutes.

READ ALSO: 5 Ways To Stop A Migraine Before It Starts

Stage 3: attack

An attack may last from a few hours to a few days. Some people have them a few times a month or even more often, and some get them years apart.

During an attack, the following symptoms may be present:

  • an intense headache, usually on one side of the head, which feels like throbbing or pulsing;
  • hypersensitivity to light and sound, sometimes to smell and touch;
  • inability to concentrate;
  • excessive sweating;
  • belly pain, nausea, and vomiting;
  • diarrhea;
  • blurred vision;
  • dizziness or lightheadedness.

Stage 4: post-drome

After an attack is over, you may feel weary for about a day and have the following symptoms:

  • weakness;
  • confusion;
  • dizziness;
  • moodiness;
  • sensitivity to light or sound.

Not everyone who suffers from migraines will experience all four stages and all symptoms described above.

See your doctor if you have these symptoms. He or she can prescribe medicines to ease your condition and recommend strategies to reduce the frequency of migraines and learn how to cope with them.

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When it’s not a migraine: emergency symptoms

If you’ve been dealing with migraines, it’s easy to mistake symptoms of something more serious (such as a stroke), for a migraine attack. You should go to the ER immediately if you have the following:

  • a headache that is worse than anything you’ve experienced before;
  • a headache after a head trauma;
  • a headache accompanied by fever, stiff neck, confusion, seizures, double vision, numbness, weakness, and trouble speaking.
  • a headache that gets worse with coughing, intense physical activity, or sudden movements.

Source: Mayo Clinic, HealthLine, Prevention

READ ALSO: Alarming Symptoms Of A Stroke And A Brain Aneurysm, And How To Tell The Difference Between These Conditions

This article is solely for informational purposes. Do not self-diagnose or self-medicate, and in all cases consult a certified healthcare professional before using any information presented in the article. The editorial board does not guarantee any results and does not bear any responsibility for any harm that may result from using the information provided in the article.