Migraine is More Than Just Constant Headaches

Screen Shot 2016-07-28 at 9.27.46 AMJust about everyone gets a headache from time to time; some are nuisances and some of them can be excruciatingly painful and interfere with the ability to attend to even the simplest of tasks. When people think about miserable headaches, they associate them with migraine. They are actually more than just a headache; they include physical symptoms that affect the brain and the body. Migraine can begin in childhood or adolescence and occur in four stages.

1. Prodrome (Pre Headache)
This first stage is a kind of warning that occurs one or two days before a migraine. You may notice some subtle changes in behavior or bodily function. Some symptoms that provide this caution include:

  • Irritability.
  • Constipation.
  • Mood Changes.
  • Neck stiffness.
  • Concentration problems.

Experiencing a pre-headache  is actually quite common. Approximately 30% – 40% of people that experience migraine actually do experience the pre-headache stage, but do not tell anyone about it. This is because the symptoms of prodrome may be interpreted as due to inadequate sleep or some other minor condition. For this reason, many people brush the symptoms off as insignificant and don’t tell their families or doctors.

2. Aura (Nervous System Symptoms)
The nervous system is affected as well, and these effects, called “auras”, can be felt before or during the attack itself.  Auras are usually visual disturbances, but other senses can also be disturbed such as:

  • Touch. There can be pins and needles sensations in arms or legs.
  • Speech. Some experience difficulty in forming words.
  • Movement. Others complain of “jerky” limbs or numbness.

If you do not experience aura, it is still possible to experience a headache. Some common symptoms of aura include:

  • Seeing various shapes, bright spots or flashes of light.
  • Weakness or numbness in the face or one side of the body.
  • Hearing things that aren’t actually there.

Approximately 25% of all people that experience migraine experience some kind of sensory disturbance, and like the pre-headache, the disturbances above can serve as a warning to an imminent event.

3. Migraine Attack (The Actual Headache)
The attack is probably the most debilitating part of all phases as it is not limited to just the head, but it can also affect the whole body, with pain ranging anywhere from mild to severe in intensity. Migraine headaches can last anywhere from 4 to 72 hours, and symptom severity and duration can vary from person to person. Some symptoms/characteristics of an attack are:

  • Throbbing pain on one side of the head.
  • Increased sensitivity to light.
  • Increased sensitivity to sound.
  • Nausea.
  • Dizziness.
  • Vertigo (feel like the room is “spinning”).
  • Hot flashes or chills.

Sometimes these symptoms can be so intense that they are hard to comprehend or describe. Everyone experiences attacks differently so you may experience some of these symptoms but not at all.

4. Postdrome (Post-headache)
Once the headache is over, the migraine episode may or may not be over. Postdrome is the phase that comes immediately after an attack. Recovery times can range from hours to days. Patients with migraine describe the postdrome phase as having the same feeling as being  “hungover”. Symptoms of postdrome include:

  • Lowered mood levels/depression OR euphoria (extreme happiness)
  • Fatigue
  • Concentration problems

In some cases where pre-headache and sensory disturbance occur without the headache, post-headache may still occur. 

It is important to get medical help if you think you may be suffering from migraine. Remember, everyone encounters migraine symptoms differently — you may have a variety of symptoms different from others. If you think you may have a headache condition of some type, please contact the Institute for Advanced Medical Research at 770-817-9200. If you have any questions, please do not hesitate to contact us.