Migraine symptoms are not restricted to headache pain: nausea, photo-phobia (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.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. Different people may experience different symptoms. Understanding and being able to identify prodrome characteristics may allow some migraine sufferers to predict approximately when their migraine will begin.
Lack of appetite
Diarrhea or constipation
Depression and irritability
Difficulty performing mental tasks
Down the Rabbit Hole. Twenty percent of migraine sufferers experience 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.
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 aura is not unusual. Other aura migraine 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.
Migraine Headache. Moderate to severe pain, which can last between 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 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, migraine sufferers may experience other symptoms. These include:
Lack of appetite
Nausea and vomiting
Sound and smell sensitivity
Feelings of heat or cold
Depression, nervousness or irritability
Bulging veins in the temples
Small fluid pockets on the scalp or face
Gastric stasis is a condition that sometime 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: the compromised digestive system may not absorb enough of the medication to be effective.
Headache termination describes the period during which the pain slowly diminishes. The pain from the headache eases over a period of several hours. During this time fatigue and irritability are common. Vomiting is also common. Falling asleep often signals the end of the headache.
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. The postdrome can last several days before it resolves.