Migraines tend to progress through four distinctive stages: prodrome, aura, attack (headache), and postdrome. But not everyone who has migraines experiences every stage. For others, signs and symptoms may vary from one migraine to another.
Read on to familiarize yourself with some of the migraine stages and their symptoms, and learn when you should contact a doctor or pay a visit to the ER.
Some people notice subtle warning signs one or two days before the onset of an attack. These can include:
- Food cravings
- Mood swings
- Neck stiffness
- Frequent yawning
- Increased thirst and urination
Aura is a group of symptoms that generally occur before the onset of headache, although some symptoms may continue into the headache or attack phase. Migraine aura affects about one in five people who suffer from migraines.
Common symptoms are visual, but aura can also affect sensory, motor, and verbal activity.
Symptoms of aura tend to begin gradually, increasing in intensity for several minutes and generally lasting up to an hour. Common examples of migraine aura symptoms include:
- Visual phenomena, such as flashes, zigzag lines or waves, spots, stars, or other shapes
- Blurred or cloudy vision
- Blind spots
- Tingling or pins-and-needles sensations in an arm or leg
- Difficulty speaking
- Hearing sounds or music
- Weakness or numbness in the face, or a single side of the body
- Involuntary jerking or other movements
- Limb weakness
A migraine attack typically lasts for approximately four to 72 hours. But the frequency with which migraines occur varies from person to person. Sometimes they are infrequent, while in other cases they may strike multiple times in a single month.
During a migraine attack, you might experience:
- Pain on one or both sides of your head
- Throbbing or pulsing head pain
- Sensitivity to sound, light, and sometimes touch and smell
- Nausea or vomiting
- Blurred vision
- Dizziness and sometimes fainting
The last and final migraine phase is called postdrome. It occurs after an attack. During postdrome, you might feel exhausted or disoriented. Some people experience a sense of joy or elation during the postdrome phase.
This phase usually lasts for approximately 24 hours.
Other common postdrome symptoms include:
- Mood swings
- Fatigue and weakness
- Sensitivity to light and sound
When to See a Doctor
Migraines often go undiagnosed and untreated. If you experience the signs and symptoms of migraines on a regular basis, you should try to keep a record of them.
Include as many details as possible, for instance what you were doing before the attack, its symptoms, duration, and how you treated the pain. Next, make an appointment with a doctor.
There is no easy diagnostic test for migraines. Your physician will rely on the symptoms you report to make a diagnosis.
If you have a history of migraine headaches, it’s important to see a doctor if your migraines become more severe or start to appear more frequently, interfering with your day-to-day life. Changes in your usual migraine symptoms are another good reason to make an appointment with your doctor to discuss your headaches.
Talk to your doctor about what you should do in the event of severe or unusual migraine symptoms. Ask your doctor the following questions to understand what you need to do:
- Which symptoms indicate I should call your office?
- Which symptoms should I treat as an emergency?
Your doctor should be able to help you develop a clear plan. If possible, write it down so that you know exactly what to do in the event that your migraine symptoms change. The decision to seek care is never easy. When you have a migraine, the last thing you feel like doing is going out. But keep in mind that taking action by calling your doctor early on may save you a trip to the emergency room later.
Do You Need Emergency Medical Care?
You should contact your doctor or go to the emergency room if you experience any of the signs and symptoms listed below. These symptoms may indicate a more serious health problem than a migraine:
- A headache accompanied by confusion, seizures, weakness, a stiff neck, numbness, double vision, or difficulty speaking
- Headache after a head injury, especially if symptoms worsen
- An abrupt, severe headache that begins suddenly
- New headache pain if you’re over the age of 50
- Uncontrollable vomiting
- Loss of consciousness
Still looking for more information about migraines? See our article about what types of migraines you could be experiencing and how you get diagnosed. Click here to learn more.
The information in this article should not be taken as professional medical advice. If you are having issues or have health-related concerns, you should see your personal physician.