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Migraine Headache Symptoms

What are the symptoms of migraine headaches?

Migraine headaches are a chronic health condition with reoccurring bouts of intensely painful headaches. Most migraine episodes are associated with headaches, although some of the symptoms of migraine can occur without a headache.

  • Migraine headache is described as an intense throbbing or pounding pain that involves one temple. Sometimes pain involves the forehead, around the eye, and the back of the head.
  • The pain usually is unilateral, or occurring on one side of the head. One third of the time the pain is on both sides of the head, or bilateral.
  • The unilateral headaches can change sides from one attack to the next. If the headache is always on the same side of the head, you should see your health care provider to rule out other causes for the headache, such as brain tumor.
  • A migraine headache usually is aggravated by activities such as walking upstairs, while it is alleviated somewhat by bed rest.
  • Nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, pale facial complexion, cold hands and feet, and hyper-sensitivity to light and sound commonly accompany migraine headache.
  • Due to the heightened sensitivity and aggravation of pain when exposed to light and noise, migraine sufferers often prefer bed rest in a quiet, darkened room.
  • While not as commonly recognized as a symptom of migraine headaches, many people report that strong odors, such as those from perfume can trigger a migraine, and may make a migraine headache worse after the episode has started.

About half of all migraine headaches are preceded by warning signs for a few hours or even days before the onset of painful migraine symptoms such as headache. Migraine warning symptoms include may include:

  • sleepiness
  • irritability
  • fatigue
  • depression or euphoria
  • yawning
  • cravings for sweet or salty foods

Many migraine patients and their family members will know that a migraine is approaching when they experience these symptoms.

Migraine aura

An estimated one fifth of migraine headaches occur with an aura. Usually, the aura occurs before the onset of the headache, although they may also occur simultaneously. The most common auras are:

  • Flashing, brightly colored lights in a zigzag pattern, usually starting in the middle of the visual field and progressing outward
  • A hole or scotoma in the visual field, also known as a blind spot

Some migraine sufferers may experience only the visual aura without the headache, which leads some scientists to believe that migraine is more of a neurological disease than a vascular disease. Other, less common auras consist of pins-and-needles sensations in the hand and the arm on one side of the body, and pins-and-needles sensations around the mouth and the nose on the same side. Auras can also include auditory hallucinations, abnormal tastes in the mouth and heightened sensitivity to smells.

For about 24 hours after a migraine attack, the migraine sufferer may feel fatigued and exhausted, and may experience a dull headache along with sensitivity to light and sound. Some recurrences of the headache can occur during this period.


Melissa Conrad Stoppler, MD. 2010. (Online) accessed 02-24-2010

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