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Migraines can cause neurological symptoms, so it’s helpful to learn more about all of them and how they’re related. A migraine is classified as a headache that causes significant discomfort and other symptoms like nausea, vomiting, or sensitivity to light. (You might think you’ve had a headache before now, but unless it’s caused some combination of these issues at least three times per month over a span of six months or more, what you’ve actually had is called a tension headache.)
Migraines are often divided into four distinct phases: prodrome (the phase before the migraine), aura (when visual impairments happen), headache (when the pain and other symptoms occur), and postdrome (the phase after). What’s fascinating about migraines is that not everyone experiences every phase for every migraine attack. Some people experience migraines with no visual impairments or warning signs—or “silent” migraines—while others have very clear premonitions that a migraine may be coming on soon.
The prodrome phase of a migraine can last for up to 72 hours. It’s characterized by a variety of symptoms that may come and go at random. These include fatigue, hunger, thirst, mood changes (like irritability), blurred vision and sound sensitivity. The prodrome phase is also responsible for making you feel like you have to vomit or are vomiting when you don’t actually have nausea.
Aura is a sensory disturbance that occurs before or during a migraine attack. Aura can be visual, sensory or motor in nature and may precede a headache by hours or even days. The most common type of aura is visual, with the other two types being less frequent. Auras are often described as “flashes” of light that appear in various shapes, with some people seeing shimmering spots and others having lines or waves passing across their vision.
Some migraineurs have no warning signs before they experience an episode while others experience aura as one of the phases of their attacks. It’s also possible for someone to experience more than one type of aura simultaneously—for example, seeing shimmering spots and lines at the same time.
The length of an individual’s aura can vary from person to person as well; some people report just having brief flashes lasting only seconds while others say theirs last for hours or even days (although this is rare).
The headache phase is usually the first symptom of migraine, with pain usually on one side of the head. The pain can be throbbing or pulsating and is typically moderate to severe. The headache may be accompanied by nausea, vomiting and sensitivity to light and sound.
After a migraine, you may experience symptoms that can last for hours or even days. These symptoms are known as postdromes and vary from person to person. Some people will experience a headache after their migraine, while others feel tired and drained. In some cases, nausea and vomiting can occur as well.
Postdrome is an important part of understanding migraines because it helps you predict when your next attack might happen. If you notice that certain activities trigger headaches in the days after a migraine, it’s important to avoid those activities until they pass so you can prevent future attacks from occurring too soon or at all
Migraine phases differ in length, some can last for hours, while others can last for days.
- Prodrome can last for hours, while aura may last only minutes.
- Headaches can be severe and disabling, lasting from hours to days.
- The postdrome phase can cause fatigue and other symptoms that last for days or weeks after the headache has ended.
These phases are the most common, with some patients reporting that they follow this pattern every time. While there is no evidence to suggest that any of these stages are preventable, there are ways to manage each phase so that you’re more comfortable before, during and after a migraine.