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Symptoms and Signs of Migraine Headache

Doctor's Notes on Migraine Headache Symptoms,vs., Causes, Aura, and Pain Relief Treatment

Migraine headache is a specific type of headache that is associated with physiologic changes in the brain. It usually produces characteristic symptoms. The exact cause of migraine headache is not well understood. It is possible that fluctuations in the levels of certain neurotransmitters, chemicals that send messages between brain cells, may predispose some people to develop migraine headaches.

Migraine headaches usually are associated with sensitivity to sound, light, and/or smells. Other signs and associated symptoms include head pain that is described as severe or pounding, most often on one side of the head. Other symptoms can include nausea, vomiting, eye pain, or loss of vision. Some people experience specific warning symptoms prior to the onset of a migraine, known as an aura.

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Medically Reviewed on 3/20/2019

Migraine Headache Symptoms,vs., Causes, Aura, and Pain Relief Treatment Symptoms

Symptoms and signs vary from person to person and from migraine to migraine. Five phases often can be identified.

  1. Prodrome: A variety of warnings can come before a migraine. These may consist of a change in mood (for example, feeling "high," irritable, or depressed) or a subtle change of sensation (for example, a funny taste or smell). Fatigue and muscle tension are also common.
  2. Aura: Commonly, these visual or other sensory disturbances that precede the headache phase. Some patients develop blind spots (called scotomas); see geometric patterns or flashing, colorful lights; or lose vision on one side (hemianopia).While visual auras are most common, motor and even verbal auras have also been described.
  3. Headache: The pain of a migraine usually appears on one side of the head, but some occur on both sides and/or the head. The head may throb with pain. Most people with migraine headaches feel nauseated, and some vomit. Most become sensitive to light (photophobia) and sound (phonophobia). This phase may last 4 to 72 hours.
  4. Headache termination: Usually, if the head pain from a migraine is not treated it will go away with sleep.
  5. Postdrome: Other signs, for example, inability to eat, problems with concentration, or fatigue, may linger after the head pain has disappeared.

Migraine or Headache? Migraine Symptoms, Triggers, Treatment Slideshow

Migraine or Headache? Migraine Symptoms, Triggers, Treatment Slideshow

A migraine is a throbbing painful headache, usually on one side of the head, that is often initiated or "triggered" by specific compounds or situations (environment, stress, hormones, and many others). They occur more often in women (75%, approximately) and may affect a person’s ability to do common tasks.


Kasper, D.L., et al., eds. Harrison's Principles of Internal Medicine, 19th Ed. United States: McGraw-Hill Education, 2015.