Types Of Headaches Migraine Headaches Symptoms

Migraine symptoms are not restricted to headache pain; nausea, photophobia (light sensitivity), and even mild paralysis may occur. Migraines progress through distinct phases, each with its own distinct symptoms and characteristics. Not every sufferer goes through all phases.

Migraine Headache Prodrome

Sixty percent of migraine sufferers experience prodrome, a series of symptoms that precede the actual headache. Prodrome symptoms may occur days before actual pain hits. Prodrome symptoms vary among migraine suffers. Understanding and being able to identify prodrome characteristics may allow some migraine sufferers to predict approximately when their migraine will begin.

  • stiff neck
  • dizziness
  • lack of appetite
  • diarrhea or constipation
  • photophobia
  • sound sensitivity
  • increased urination
  • fatigue
  • depression and irritability
  • difficulty performing mental tasks
  • feeling cold
  • hyperactivity
  • thirst
  • euphoria.

Migraine Headache Aura

Twenty percent of migraine sufferers experience migraine aura, a phase characterized by changes in visual perception. Auras usually occur five to twenty minutes prior to the actual headache, so they don’t provide as much warning as the prodrome phase.

Migraine Auras - Migraine Headache Symptoms

Visual symptoms of aura include seeing flashing lights, geometric patterns that obscure vision, or even the temporary loss of half of the visual range. A bright rim of light often rings this temporary area of visual loss. Often the individual sees shimmering lights around the edges of objects. Photophobia is also common.

While visual perception is most often associated with the aura phase, other senses may also be affected. For instance, experiencing odd smells or hearing non-existent sounds during the aura phase is not unusual. Other migraine aura symptoms can include weakness, feeling “pins and needles,” numbness or a mild paralysis down one side of the body. Difficulty speaking, or even a temporary loss of the ability to speak are also possible.


Down the Rabbit Hole

Lewis Carroll reportedly suffered from migraine attacks. It’s believed that several passages in Alice in Wonderland describe his experiences with migraine auras.

Migraine Headaches

Moderate to severe pain, which can last from one to three days, characterizes the headache phase of a migraine. The pain is generally restricted to one side of the head, directly behind the eyes, or around the eyes. During the active headache phase, physical activity may intensify the pain.

Migraine Headache Symptoms - Stages of Migraine Headaches -   Types of Headaches

Migraine pain may start on both sides of the head, and then slowly move to just one side. Or the pain may start on just one side, and gradually spread to the entire head as the headache progresses.

During the active headache phase, other migraine symptoms may occur. These include:

  • lack of appetite
  • nausea and vomiting
  • photophobia
  • sound and smell sensitivity
  • blurred vision
  • feelings of heat or cold
  • sweating
  • tender scalp
  • difficulty concentrating
  • depression, nervousness or irritability
  • fatigue
  • stuffed-up nose
  • bulging veins in the temples
  • small fluid pockets on the scalp or face
  • pale face.

Systemic lupus erythematosus

SLE or simply “lupus”) can cause headaches with symptoms similar to migraine. In fact, an estimated twenty percent of SLE patients experience lupus headaches.

Gastric Stasis

Gastric stasis is a condition that sometimes occurs during a migraine headache. The gastric system either slows down significantly, or even stops for a while. This in part accounts for the nausea and vomiting that can occur during a migraine. Gastric stasis must also be taken into account when taking migraine medications as the compromised digestive system may not absorb enough of the medication to be effective.

Headache Termination

Headache termination describes the period during which the pain and other migraine symptoms slowly diminish. The pain from the headache eases over a period of several hours. During this time fatigue and irritability are common. Vomiting or nausea is also common during this phase. Falling asleep often signals the end of the headache.

Migraine Headache Postdrome

The postdrome phase has been described as a “migraine hangover,” and the description is quite apt. For a period of time after the headache, migraine sufferers may be irritable and fatigued. They may have difficulty concentrating, and experience mood changes. The scalp may also be very tender. Postdrome symptoms can last several days before the phase resolves.


American Medical Association. (1998). What is migraine headache? Medem Medical Library.

Lee, D. (nd). Migraine headache. MedicineNet, Inc.

New York Methodist Hospital. (2001). Migraine Headaches: What is headache?