Signs of migraines

We talk you through the signs that you might have a migraine coming on and when to see a doctor.


Stages of a Migraine

While each individual migraine varies, migraines typically consist of 4 stages:

  1. Prodrome - The prodrome includes mood changes and gastrointestinal disturbances may occur. 
  2. Aura - These refer to sensations preceding the headache often including visual disturbances
  3. Headache - This usually has a throbbing nature and usually starts on one side of the head
  4. Postdrome - This describes the changes in mood after the headache resolves. The sufferer may feel tired and groggy to joyous. 

Focusing on the first 2 stages we will explain common symptoms that a migraine attack is going to happen. 

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Prodromal signs of a migraine

The prodrome can start 12-24 hours before pain in the head. 60% of sufferers experience prodromal symptoms before the onset of headache. These include:

  • Diarrhea or constipation
  • Craving certain foods e.g. sugar
  • Irritability
  • Difficulty concentrating
  • Confusion
  • Muscle stiffness
  • Tiredness
  • Increased urination
  • Mood changes


Auras indicating migraine onset

The aura stage occurs for 20-30% of migraine sufferers, tends to develop in 5-20 minutes and lasts 5-60 minutes. There are 3 main forms of an aura:

1. Visual disturbance. 

Visual disturbances are the most common and often occur in the centre of the visual field and move outwards. 

  • Blind spots
  • Colored spots
  • Flashes/ specks of light
  • Zig zag lines
  • Tunnel vision
  • Temporary loss of vision


2. Physical Sensation

These changes in sensation may start on one side of the body before progressing to other areas

  • Pins and needles
  • Vertigo
  • Dizziness
  • Numbness
  • Weakness


3. Speech and language difficulties

Communication may become more difficult due to:

  • Difficulty speaking
  • Slow speech
  • Mumbling
  • Slurred speech


Other signs are possible during the aura stage such as memory loss, feelings of confusion and fear. Partial paralysis and fainting are rarer signs.


Seeking Medical Assistance

You should contact your doctor if you have any concerns particularly if you have severe headaches, associated symptoms like nausea and migraine attacks are getting in the way of your life (sick days off work, missing school). 


Symptoms may indicate a more sinister underlying cause of disease if the following apply:

  • The onset of symptoms is immediate not gradual
  • The symptoms last for longer than 1 hour
  • Only occur in 1 eye
  • Do not resolve with time

In these cases the doctor may need to rule out causes of permanent deficits such as strokes or retinal tears for example. 


Typically establishing that you suffer from migraines will lead to preventative treatment, medication and sometimes medical devices that you can use. A doctor will usually recommend that you keep a headache diary to keep track of the signs and symptoms unique to you to tailor your treatment. 




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