Migraine Attack Phases

Did you know that one of the distinguishing parts of living with migraine are the body-wide symptoms you experience? This separates migraine from most other headache disorders.

But wait, there’s more!

Symptoms happen before, during, AND after a migraine attack. There are four distinct phases to a migraine attack! Today we will describe each of those phases.

Overview of the Phases:

1. Prodrome

“Prodrome” nearly directly means “pre-symptoms” of a disease or condition. This phase occurs before the painful attack phase, lasting anywhere from a few hours to several days.

This phase typically occurs after exposure to a trigger, which is essentially an internal or external event that initiates abnormal activity in your brain.

This abnormal activity leads to a variety of symptoms, including (but not limited to):

  • Yawning (click here for an Instagram post I created to describe why!)
  • Sensitivity to light/smell/sound
  • Fatigue
  • Mood changes
  • Confusion and brain fog
  • Increased urination (click here for an Instagram post I created to describe why!)

I like to consider prodrome as your “early warning signs” that an attack is on the way. Learning your typical symptoms can help you prepare for and more effectively treat your attacks.

Download my free migraine tracking template below to get started learning your patterns.

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Use this template to effectively and easily log your migraine attacks. This can help you communicate with your physician, learn about your illness, and figure out what reliefs work for you.

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    2. Aura

    Aura is a term to describe a variety of sensory disturbances before a migraine attack. About a third of people experience aura, but typically not for every attack. It may be very short lived or occur for up to 60 minutes.

    While aura typically occurs within an hour pre-attack phase, aura is infamous for showing up at any point of a migraine attack. Some people may notice aura with no following migraine attack, and some people may experience aura in the middle of their attack phase.

    There are four different types of aura:

    Visual Distortions: You may have blind spots, tunnel vision, see “stars” or zig-zag lines, or flashes of light.

    Sensory Disturbances: You may feel weakness, numbness, or tingling in your fingers, face, or elsewhere.

    Speech Disturbances: You may slur words, mumble, or be unable to pronounce words.

    Auditory Disturbances: You may have difficulty hearing.

    3. Attack

    The attack phase of a migraine attack is likely the phase you are most familiar with. This is typically the most disabling phase of an attack and when symptoms are at their peak. The attack phase typically lasts up to 72 hours.

    The most notable symptom during this phase is head pain… Fun fact, there are forms of migraine that experience no head pain at all! These types of migraine can be equally disabling.

    Other common symptoms:

    • Nausea and vomiting
    • Sensitivity to light/smell/sound
    • Mood changes
    • Confusion and brain fog
    • Fatigue
    • Neck pain

    4. Postdrome

    “Postdrome” nearly directly means “post-symptoms” of a disease or condition. After the attack phase passes, you may notice lingering symptoms for the next day (or more!).

    Some people report a feeling of euphoria and feeling light as a cloud, but many report symptoms commonly referred to as a “migraine hangover”.

    The migraine hangover feels exactly how it sounds, including symptoms of fatigue, confusion, brain fog, aches, and a low mood.

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