How to Tell If You’re Having a Migraine


August 26, 2021

Having severe, recurring headaches that last for several days and are accompanied by nausea, vomiting, and sensitivity to light? You may be suffering from a migraine. These types of headaches affect about 39 million people in the U.S. and an estimated one billion people worldwide. However, the experience associated with an episode is different from that of a typical headache. So how can you tell if you are having a migraine?

Here’s what to know and the signs to watch for. 

Having a Migraine: Signs and Symptoms

How migraines affects people can vary. However, there is a recognized pattern for these attacks; the neurological disease typically progresses through four stages. Below are the stages and the symptoms they can come with. 


Hours or days before a migraine episode, a good number of people notice some subtle warning signs. Typical symptoms during this stage include:

  • Food cravings or lack of appetite
  • Blurred vision
  • Sensitivity to light and sound
  • Constipation
  • Difficulty sleeping
  • Muscle stiffness 
  • Mood changes: anxiety, irritability and depression 
  • Severe thirst and increased urination
  • Fatigue
  • Constipation or diarrhea


About one-third of migraine patients experience aura. These are symptoms of the nervous system that usually involve your vision. However, some patients may experience other disturbances as well. These symptoms start gradually and can last for between 20 and 60 minutes. They include:

  • Seeing black dots, various shapes, flashes of light, and things that are not there
  • Vision loss
  • Difficulty speaking
  • Tingling and numbness in the face or hands 
  • Vertigo
  • Auditory or olfactory hallucinations 


If left untreated, a migraine can last from four to 72 hours. How frequently the disease occurs will vary from one person to another. Some patients will have a migraine rarely while in others it will occur several times in a month. Common symptoms during this stage are:

  • Headache; usually on one side of the head
  • Mild to severe throbbing or pulsing headache
  • Nausea and vomiting
  • Nasal congestion 
  • Sensitivity to light, sound and smell
  • Insomnia
  • Neck pain and stiffness
  • Dehydration or fluid retention


After the severe pain associated with the attack phase, you may experience prodromal symptoms before the migraine attack completely fades away.  Most people describe postdrome as feeling like a hangover. The symptoms include:

  • Fatigue
  • Dizziness or lightheadedness
  • Mood changes, including anxiety, sadness or an elevated mood
  • Muscle aches
  • Stiff neck
  • Difficulty concentrating
  • Confusion  

Types of Migraine Headaches

There are different types of migraines. The two common types are migraine with aura, also known as classic migraine, and without aura, or common migraine. Other types include chronic, menstrual, hemiplegic, abdominal, vestibular, and and basilar migraines. 

Causes, Risk Factors, and Triggers

The exact cause of migraine headaches is unknown. However, women are at a higher risk of suffering from the disease. They usually occurs during adolescence and tends to peak when people are in their 30s. Other risk factors are family history, hormonal changes and medical conditions like epilepsy, bipolar disorder, sleep disorders and depression. Common triggers include emotional stress, skipping meals, caffeine, changes to your sleep, and daily use of pain-relieving medications. 

When to See a Doctor

An untreated migraine can affect your quality of life and lead to a host of other health issues. As such, it is important to know when to seek medical attention. You should see a doctor in case of:

  • Pain that seems like a first migraine episode
  • Unusual or worsening symptoms
  • Severe symptoms
  • Headache after a head injury
  • Headache that gets worse when you cough or move suddenly

We are committed to helping patients diagnosed with migraines find relief. Contact us today to find out more.