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Migraine Headache Symptoms: Your Early Warning Signs

Written and verified by Holly Hazen

Migraine headache symptoms can feel like getting a cold; runny nose; freezing cold hands and feet @migrainesavvy #migrainerelief #stopmigraines #migraineheadaches

Did you know that your migraine headache symptoms can occur days before an attack? They can also last during the entire attack... and after the attack, in some cases, for days.

Use your symptoms as early warning signals so you can take action immediately and stop your migraines asap.

Migraine headache attacks begin with a single trigger or accumulated triggers and are followed by symptoms that are quite different for each individual.

Migraines normally go through four phases with different symptoms occurring – or not - in each phase.

Meaning that not all people experience all four phases. 

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We may be most familiar with the pain phase, which actually comes third in the sequence of events. The symptoms and characteristics of this phase appear to occur more commonly to most individuals than in the other phases. So let's start there.

Phase 3 – The Pain Phase

In Phase 3 – when the pain actually hits - it normally looks like this:

  • pain on one side of the head
  • hypersensitivity to sound (phonophobia)
  • hypersensitivity to light (photophobia)
  • nausea that can often lead to vomiting
  • diarrhea or constipation
  • a sinus like attack - congestion or runny nose
  • body temperature fluctuations - hot flashes and chills, cold feet and hands
  • dizziness
  • confusion
  • pain and symptoms are both aggravated by activity
  • dehydration

The pain phase typically lasts for 4 – 72 hours. But before that comes the entire episode that starts with...

Phase 1 – Symptoms During The Prodrome

40 to 60 percent of migraine attacks are preceded by warning symptoms.

Migraine headache symptoms can occur hours or even days before the migraine episode.

This can provide you with an early warning signal that tells you your migraine attack is on its way.

This is when I know to take my abortive as soon as possible. Please see our list of migraine medications here should you like more details on the abortives available. Getting to know my signals and symptoms have definitely made my life more manageable.

Some typical early warning migraine headache symptoms are:

  • food cravings for sweet or salty foods or ravenous hunger
  • constipation or diarrhea
  • mood swings: depression, irritability, anger, crying, etc
  • muscle stiffness, especially in the back and neck
  • tiredness, yawning
  • cold hands or feet, or overall chills
  • increased occurrence and need for urination

Migraine Headache Symptoms Are Your Early Warning Signals

My biggest ah hah moment came about a year ago when I was getting a hair cut. When my hair was being shampooed I said "oh no this smell is a migraine trigger for me."

I could taste it, as I can taste many things that trigger me like that - hand creams, make up, hair conditioners, etc. My heart started to race.

Anyway she replied "oh how wonderful you have an early warning system." I was so shocked, and then realized that I had not looked at it that way before. How could I have missed that? I got stuck in the - "Oh no, not again" instead.

Want my advice? Treat your migraine headache symptoms as early warning signs. Learn to listen to your body. My course will help you start to recognize your own signals. Taking action as soon as possible is your best chance at aborting your attack. Here's the link...

Click here for my Migraine Pain Management course, it's FREE to enroll >>

Phase 2 – Symptoms with An Aura

It is estimated that 20 percent of migraineurs experience this aura phase. This period also has a set of its own symptoms that vary widely between individuals. Some migraine headache symptoms can be quite terrifying like those that resemble a stroke in a more complex migraine – the recent example was Serene Branson, the KCBS reporter, who started to speak gibberish on her live report at the Grammys.

Then there are some people who experience a tingling sensation and have numbness leading to partial paralysis of their limbs and face. This is normally on the same side of their body as the migraine headache itself.

Having paralysis would freak me right out....I am stressed enough with the migraine headache symptoms I already do have. Which are listed below, plus I get cold like symptoms each time. A runny nose and swollen eye on one side. Each time my husband says "maybe you are just getting a cold."

Some classic aura symptoms are:

  • visual disturbances: flashing lights, seeing wavy zigzag (called fortification spectra) lines in the air, spots, blank spots or blind spots (called scotoma), blurry vision
  • olfactory hallucinations (experiencing strong smells that aren't actually present)
  • partial paralysis, tingling or numbness of the face or limbs on the side where the headache develops
  • difficulty finding words and/or speaking
  • difficulty concentrating
  • difficulty hearing
  • confusion
  • dizziness or vertigo
  • reduced sensations, or
  • hypersensitivity to feel, touch, sound and light leading to abnormal taste and smell.

Phase 4 – Symptoms in The Postdrome

After effects are most commonly experienced by most migraine sufferers for approximately 24 hours after the attack but some people take hours and some take several days or a week to fully recover from an attack. These symptoms can be:

  • melancholy, depression and fatigue
  • feeling drained of energy
  • low grade headache
  • remaining sensitivities to light and sound
  • reduced concentration and poor memory

And sometimes the migraine can recur during this phase.

A Significant Number of Symptoms

As you can see, there are a significant number of symptoms of migraine to become aware of and I have found it is of great importance that we know that symptoms do vary greatly between individuals.

We must then, endeavor to learn our own signals so we can take the action we need to, to abort the attack. The sooner you act, the shorter the pain and symptoms will last.

Get My Help...

Click here for my Migraine Pain Management course, it's FREE to enroll >>

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How to be more migraine savvy right now...

Image Reference:

Harvard Health Publishing (2019) Headache: When to worry, what to do. Available [online] at:   Accessed Apr. 5, 2019