Not Just a Headache: Migraine’s Other Symptoms

The usual description of migraine includes visual aura, one-sided throbbing pain, nausea, and sensitivity to light and sound. There’s a lot more to it than that. The following information, which comes from my very favorite migraine book, Migraine: The Complete Guide, is a list of the other symptoms of migraine. It’s organized by the phase that the symptoms they occur in and by which part of the body is involved. I’ve made a few changes to the information from the book; most noticable is that I’ve collapsed the book’s sections on aura and prodrome into one.*

Prodrome (the period before the pain begins)

Visual (aka aura)

  • a bright shape that spreads across the visual field of one eye and appears to block some or all of the vision; can be seen whether the eye is open or closed
  • flashes of light and color
  • wavy lines
  • geometric patterns
  • blurred vision
  • partial loss of sight

Sensory

  • numbness or tingling on the face or upper extremities
  • a sense that limbs are a distorted shape or size
  • smelling odors that aren’t actually present (like natural gas or something burning)

Motor

  • partial paralysis
  • weakness or heaviness in the limbs on one side of the body

Language

  • difficulty finding words
  • problems understanding spoken or written language

Cognitive

  • mental confusion
  • disorientation
  • transient global amnesia (similar to amnesia that follows a concussion)

Digestive

  • food cravings (particularly for carbohydrates, candy and chocolate)
  • stomach rumblings
  • constipation

Fluid disturbances

  • increased thirst
  • bloating/fluid retention
  • frequent urination

Mental/Personality

  • mood changes
  • irritability
  • high energy
  • lethargy

Headache Phase

Sensory

  • sensitivity to light and noise
  • intolerance of being touched
  • heightened sensitivity to odors

Digestive

  • nausea
  • vomiting
  • intolerance of food odors
  • loss of appetite
  • diarrhea
  • constipation

Skin

  • paleness
  • cold, clammy hands and feet
  • facial swelling
  • goose bumps
  • bloodshot eyes
  • black circles around eyes
  • sweating

Fluid disturbances

  • water retention
  • frequent urination

Respiratory

  • frequent yawning
  • sighing
  • hyperventalating
  • nasal congestion
  • runny nose

Mental/Personality

  • irritability
  • depression
  • anxiety
  • nervousness
  • difficulty concentrating

Circulatory

  • changes in blood chemistry
  • changes in blood pressure
  • blood vessel dilation
  • difficulty regulating temperature
  • changes in heart rhythms

Postdrome (24 hour following headache)

Cognitive

  • inability to concentrate

Respiratory

  • frequent yawning

Mood/Personality

  • fatigue
  • depression
  • euphoria
  • feeling of intense well-being
  • lethargy

Having the variety of chronic daily headache that is caused my migraine, I’m not convinced that these symptoms only occur in their respective phases. I certainly have different symptoms that don’t seem to be connected to severe headache pain. It could be that people with CDH have trouble knowing when they are in a particular stage or that we experience the symptoms more frequently than in these rigidly defined phases. I also wonder if people who have been diagnosed with tension-type headache experience similar additional symptoms, particularly the cognitive ones. (Don’t take anything in this paragraph as fact — these are my vaguely informed, non-medical musings.)

So you’re not crazy, losing your mind or faking it. Perhaps it’s a link to send to those who question your illness.

*Some sources maintain that an aura only encompasses the visual changes that can happen before a migraine. Others, like this book, include sensory, motor, language and cognitive difficulties as part of aura. The more common approach is that aura is only visual, but one of many symptoms of prodrome.

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5 Responses to “Not Just a Headache: Migraine’s Other Symptoms”

  1. Zuska Says:

    This is an informative post; not that I wish you had migraine/CDH, but it feels good to find someone else who understands this from a personal situation as well as intellectually. I’ve had many of the listed symptoms and not always in the designated phase, just like you. For example: extremely, extremely heightened sensitivity of smell – sometimes precedes a migraine and is the signal to me that a headache is coming, sometimes occurs simultaneous with the headache. It’s good to remind ourselves that the organizational schemes presented in official literature are the result of attempts to make sense of the broad range of effects that migraine has on its sufferers. The categories weren’t ordained by God – they are a conceptual scheme, useful when it works for you, but when your experience is outside the scheme, it just reflects the limitations of it (or any conceptual scheme).

  2. Theresa Says:

    This site reafirms for me all the symptoms I so regularly experience from classic migraines especailly the auras that disort my vision to such a degree that I am unable to see at all and sometimes it seems to take hours before I’m able to see again. I usually wake daily with a headache that disapates by about 11 am but my eyes remain bloodshot most of the time no matter how I’m feeling. I keep thinking that it’s probably Dry eye sydrome since I have allergies. As for the after affects from migraines I am always left with an feeling of total exhaustion almost as though I’ve ran all day. I do not take migraine preventatives because I have mild mitrivalve regurgitation.

  3. Claudia Marley Says:

    It is nice to read about other people that have the same condition and symptoms (not coming from a GP/Doctor).

    I was diagnosed with Daily Chronic Headache nearly 4 years ago. I have headaches all day, every day but the intencity rises and falls during the day (I prey for a day to wake up without one). I have been on so many different types of medications and found that they made no difference to the frequency or severity. I have stopped taking all the prescribed medication as i am trying for a baby. It has been absolute hell. I have been off the medication for 3 months and continued to deal with the headaches. This last week my headaches have really intensified to the point that i don’t recall feeling like this. I am waking up with incredibly bloodshot eyes, blurred vision and a stiff neck along with the general symptoms. Generally my headaches only effect one side of my face and when it is very intence my face drops and becomes numb on the side it affects. At the moment the deep pain is one sided but i can feel it over both eyes, nose and cheeks (just below the eye). I am also getting shooting pains in my face and down my back. They last for seconds. When the pain shoots down my back, a short second after if feels like cold fluid is running down.

    I used to suffer with headaches as a child but only occassionally. My life has changed so much since they became daily. The pain seems to drain my energy by the end of the day. I am normally in bed by 8pm.

    On occassions I think about my headaches and can’t help but think that after years and years of having this kind of pain that it must take its toll on the brain. As intence as my headaches are, if im still having them in 25 years time it must damage the brain in some way, even if it slight.

    Alternative medications that i have been told to try are bottox and a spinal steriod injection.

    I would appreciate any comments.

  4. Frantz H. Martial Says:

    I have been suffering with all these symtoms and i am very scared. I need help.

  5. David Loveland Says:

    Im 32,had migraines that are life affecting for the last 8 years. Who was I? A bodybuilder, climber, fearless fool that thought I was invincible. Now? Im a sypathetic, slower, more cautious person held back by migraine. I still climb to an easier standard, go mountain biking and still work fulltime with no time off sick. BUT, everyday life is much more of a struggle. Nothing comes easy now.

    I have no pain just everything else that comes with a migraine. Dizziness, CANNOT THINK STRAIGHT AT ALL, Light & Sound Sensitivity, weird feelings of anxiety that are totally random. A precurser to my migraines is chronic stomach gurgling/rumbling throughout the night and waking with an uncomfortable feeling in my stomach Next day, its time to face the music!

    What makes mine worse!??Dont lie in at the weekends!!! That is my downfall. Saturday through to Monday mine can sometimes peak. MILK, cheese and cheap chocolate(brownies or anything with chocolate chips in), pickled and smoked foods, MSG. Large amounts of Carbs/Starchy food that make me sleep heavily. A cup of tea can sometimes make it worse.

    Lets cut to the chase. What helps? What makes it better or easier. Try to fly in the face of the symptoms. Get on with life (which, I know, isnt easy at all when you’re stumbling over your words and everything looks bright and hazy!). Try High Protein shakes like Met Rx meal replacement drinks, not mixed with milk! Creatine monohydrate really really helped my migraines quite alot. Why? Im not sure but try it. Strong, fresh, organic ground coffee. Anyone heard of the LEAKY GUT SYNDROME Linked to migraine???? Look it up. Its interesting stuff.

    I see migraine as a full blown neurologocial disease/ problem getting close to epilepsy. Its a daily affecting disorder and if you are a sufferer you will know what I mean.

    I am getting off my soapbox now.
    Hope something in here was of some help.


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