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A to Z of Migraine Symptoms



Migraine is a very complex genetic neurological disorder. There are many different types of migraine, and recent advancements in research has lead to a recognition that we must accurately diagnose and treat by migraine type to effectively manage migraine. This A to Z list of migraine symptoms covers some of the better known, common symptoms, as well as, some of the lesser-known, rarer symptoms. Some of the symptoms on this list are quite general and experienced by most people with migraine, whilst others are more specific to a particular type. You can learn more about migraine types and their specific symptoms here 

A is for Anxiety

Migraine and chronic daily headaches are common in people who suffer from anxiety disorders. Common symptoms of anxiety, like excessive worry, fear and irritability, can play off of migraine symptoms. We worry about when the next attack will come, what will trigger it, and feel helpless and frustrated about the unpredictability of migraine and how it is affecting our lives. And, when you don’t know when the next attack is coming, it can cause a great deal of migraine anxiety. It is estimated 60% of migraine patients also have anxiety.

People with both an anxiety disorder and migraine have an increased likelihood of experiencing major depression. And the more migraine days you have, the higher your risk of developing anxiety and/or depression.

Read more Migraine and Mental Health here 

B is for Brain Fog

Brain fog is a cognitive impairment that affects your ability to concentrate, learn something new, use memory recall, and it may make it difficult for you to hear, speak or read. Some people experience migraine-related brain fog before the attack happens, although it is most commonly reported during the postdrome phase.

Read more about the phases of migraine here

C is for Corpangia
The entire body can be affected during a migraine attack, not just the head. From abdominal issues to cognitive impairment to sensitivity to touch, the malfunctioning of several bodily functions can wreak havoc on your entire system.

A person with hemiplegic migraine may experience a temporary weakness on one side of their body as part of their migraine attack. This can involve the face, arm, or leg and be accompanied by numbness, or pins and needles. 

Allodynia may be experienced as a symptom of migraine. Allodynia is the experience of ordinarily non-painful stimuli as painful. For instance, the scalp or face may feel too painful or sensitive to touch during a migraine attack. In most cases, Allodynia resolves as the migraine cycle progresses.

Read more about hemiplegic migraine here 

D is for Dizziness
Dizziness, also known as vertigo, is the sensation of perceived motion without actually moving. It is reported by up to one-third of people who have migraine. General dizziness or unsteadiness is reported by up to three-quarters of people with migraine. Migraine with Brainstem Aura and Vestibular Migraine, both have symptoms relating to dizziness and balance. 

Treatment of migraine-related dizziness is usually accomplished by migraine attack prevention. Management includes a healthy lifestyle with regular gentle exercise, eating balanced meals, and working on healthy sleep habits. Avoiding your attack triggers also plays a vital role in migraine attack prevention.

Read more about different types of migraine here 

E is for Euphoria 
During the fourth stage of a migraine attack, also known as the migraine hangover or Postdrome, whilst most people have symptoms that are worse than the headache stage, with depression and headache common, as well as significant fatigue, dizziness, and confusion, some people actually feel euphoria or a heightened sense of wellbeing. It is also possible to feel euphoric during the first phase of migraine, also known as prodome. 

Read more about the phases of migraine here

F is for Frequent Urination  
During the first stage of a migraine attack, also known as prodome, it is common to experience the need to urinate frequently. This urge can also be accompanied by pelvic pain and bladder hypersensitivity.

Read more about the phases of migraine here

G is for Gastrointestinal Upset

Gastrointestinal upset is a very common, but often ignored, symptom of migraine. Abdominal migraine, common in children, involves abdominal pain, vomiting, diarrhea, and other gastrointestinal upsets, and not necessarily headache. It is frequently misdiagnosed as Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS) in adults. The main symptom of abdominal migraine is recurrent episodes of moderate to severe stomach pain that usually lasts between 1 and 72 hours.

Read more about abdominal migraine here 

H is for Head Pain
The third stage of a migraine attack is the Acute stage, also called the headache phase. Not all people with migraine get a headache, but it is a common symptom. During this stage, any combination of throbbing headache, sensitivity to light, smell and sound, and/or nausea is expected. Vomiting, light-headedness, pain elsewhere in the body, or mood shifts are also possible. This third stage is the part that typically lasts 4-72 hours.

Read more about the phases of migraine here 
Read more about different types of migraine here

I is for Insomnia
Research has shown a long-standing relationship between sleep quality and migraine. It’s noted that people with migraine are more likely to suffer from insufficient sleep and are more prone to sleep disorders such as insomnia and sleep apnea. Poor sleep quality has also been shown to affect the severity and frequency of migraine attacks. When we talk about sleep quality, we immediately think of sleep deprivation. However, studies show that hypersomnia (too much sleep) is also a trigger for migraine attacks. Sleep deprivation and migraine attacks are also bidirectional, so not only do sleep disturbances trigger migraine attacks, but migraine attacks can also have a negative impact on sleep.

Tips For a Better Night's Sleep
Stick to a routine. Try and go to bed and wake up at the same time every day.
Avoid Screentime. In the lead-up to bedtime, avoid the use of your devices. If you have to use your device, try and utilise the blue light filter. Try not to use them once you are tucked up in bed.
Avoid Substances. Avoid caffeine, alcohol, and nicotine in the hours before bed. These substances can interfere with both the quality and consistency of sleep.
Relax. Take time to wind down before bed by utilising calming activities like meditation, soft music, aromatherapy, reading, etc.
Comfort is key. It is important that your sleep environment is kept at a comfortable temperature. Ideally, a cool room will induce better quality sleep. Ensure that your mattress and pillows are of good quality and offer you enough support.

J is for Jerkiness
Ataxia is a neurological symptom consisting of a lack of voluntary coordination of muscle movements that can include gait abnormality, speech changes, and abnormalities in eye movements. In layman’s terms, jerkiness of the way you move, speak, or even jerky eyes. Ataxia is a common symptom of hemiplegic migraine, but is also associated with migraine with brainstem aura and vestibular migraine.

Read more about different types of migraine here 

K is for Kidney Problems
Over time symptoms of migraine have been found to lead to chronic hypertension which may lead to problems such as issues with the kidneys. Some medications, even over-the-counter medications such as paracetamol, can cause problems with the kidney and liver, particularly when they are overused or abused. If you are at all concerned, speak to your doctors. 

L is for Loss of Consciousness 
Migraine with brainstem aura is also called brainstem migraine and was previously called basilar type migraine. This rare and serious sub-type of migraine can involve a number of concerning symptoms that originate from the brainstem. One of the more frightening symptoms for people with migraine with brainstem aura is decreased consciousness including, in rare cases, coma.

Read more about migraine with brainstem aura here 

M is for Mumbling (and other speech issues) 
It is common for people with migraine to experience changes in speech during migraine attacks, most commonly consisting of slowed speaking and decreases in the precision of articulation. Aphasia is having difficulty understanding language or expressing words. Dysarthria is slurred or garbled speech. Speech issues are a particularly common group of symptoms for people with migraine with brainstem aura, hemiplegic migraine, and migraine with aura. 

Read more about different types of migraine here 

N is for Numbness
Migraine symptoms are not always confined to the head. Sometimes there are other parts of the body that are affected by migraine. As changes occur in the brain, different sensations may be felt all over the body. It is not uncommon to feel numbness, pins and needles, or tingling in small or large areas of the body and may involve the fingers, face, arms, legs, head, lips, or tongue.

A person with hemiplegic migraine may experience a temporary weakness on one side of their body as part of their migraine attack. This can involve the face, arm, or leg and be accompanied by numbness, or pins and needles. Numbness, pins and needles, or tingling is also a symptom for some people with migraine with Aura. 

Read more about different types of migraine here 

O is for Oversensitivity (to light, noise, taste, or smell)
Phonophobia, or sound sensitivity, is one of the most common symptoms experienced by people with migraine.

Photophobia, a term used interchangeably with photosensitivity, refers to an abnormal and extreme sensitivity to light and is a common symptom of migraine. Up to 90 percent of people with migraine will experience hypersensitivity to light during an attack. Unfortunately, not only is photophobia a symptom of migraine, but light is also a common migraine trigger – and exposure to light is linked with an increased headache or migraine severity.

Osmophobia is defined as an intolerance to odors and it is associated with migraine with or without aura. Osmophobia during migraine attacks is also associated with a hypersensitive sense of taste. 

These symptoms usually occur during the headache phase of migraine attacks. However, they may also be present in the final phase of a migraine attack, also known as the interictal phase. Interictal phase is a medical term meaning between episodes or attacks.

Read more about different types of migraine here 
Read more about the phases of migraine here 

P is for Pulsating 
The third stage is Acute, also called the headache phase. Not all people with migraine get a headache, but it is a common symptom. During this stage, any combination of throbbing or pulsating headache, sensitivity to light, smell and sound, and/or nausea is expected. Vomiting, light-headedness, pain elsewhere in the body, or mood shifts are also possible. This third stage is the part that typically lasts 4-72 hours.

Read more about the phases of migraine here 

Q is for Queasy (nausea and vomiting)  
Migraine nausea and vomiting can be as debilitating as the pain. Digestive issues, especially nausea and vomiting, are extremely common migraine symptoms. Between 60 to 95% of people with migraine experience nausea during a migraine attack. Triptans treat a migraine attack and can also combat migraine-related nausea. Anti-nausea medications are also commonly taken to combat nausea. However, if you’re really nauseous, you may want to try one of the non-oral triptans such as a nasal spray.

Read more about Triptans here 

R is for Restlessness  
Migraine is frequently accompanied by additional health problems. New research has found a correlation between migraine and restless leg syndrome (RLS). RLS is a neurological movement disorder that most often occurs in adults who are middle-aged and older. RLS characterised by a compelling urge to move the legs usually accompanied by uncomfortable and unpleasant sensations. These symptoms are usually worse in the evening, when sitting or laying down, and often disrupt sleep.  

S is for Sinusitis 
Research studies show that it is common to experience sinus symptoms to occur with a migraine attack. Nasal congestion and watery eyes are frequently experienced as sinus symptoms in conjunction with migraine. Significantly, if the congestion is part of the migraine, it would be expected to resolve with the specific migraine treatment.

Read more about the phases of migraine here 

T is for Tinnitus  
Migraine attacks often come with throbbing pain, nausea, and light sensitivity, but they also can have ear-related symptoms like fullness, muffled hearing, and tinnitus. Tinnitus is generally described as a ringing, buzzing, clicking, or whistling sound in your ears that is not related to anything external. Tinnitus is particularly common in people who experience vestibular migraine. 

Read more about Vestibular Migraine here 

U is for Unbalanced
Vestibular migraine, also called migrainous vertigo, affects vision and balance. It is common for vestibular migraine patients to not have a headache during their migraine attacks. It can include a number of debilitating symptoms affecting the ears, vision, and balance. It is the second most common cause of vertigo.

Alongside symptoms of vertigo, imbalance, and dizziness, during a vestibular migraine, some people may also find head movement involved in turning, bending down, or looking up intolerable, feel a pressure within their head and/or ear, have neck pain, find it hard to hear low sounds, or develop tinnitus (a ringing or other sound in the ear). People may also experience headaches, visual disturbances such as hazy or blurred vision, sparkles or blotches in their vision, or loss of part of their vision.

Read more about Vestibular Migraine here 

V is for Visual Aura (and Field Defects)
The definition of an aura is a recurrent attack that features temporary visual, sensory and/or speech/language symptoms. These symptoms include blurry vision, light sensitivity, vision loss, seeing zigzags or squiggly lines, numbness, tingling, weakness, confusion, difficulty speaking, dizziness, diarrhea, vomiting, and abdominal pain.

Retinal migraine causes temporary blindness or visual disturbances in one eye. Usually, these symptoms precede a headache, but not always.

Some practitioners use the term ocular migraine to refer to retinal migraine, but strictly speaking, the retinal migraine is one of two subtypes of ocular migraine. The other type of ocular migraine is migraine with aura, in which the visual disturbances that come before head pain affect both eyes.

The difference is that in retinal migraine, the vision symptoms are coming from the eye, while in migraine with typical aura the vision symptoms are coming from the brain. With a retinal migraine if you look through the right eye and close the left eye, you see twinkling lights but when you look through the left eye and close the right eye your vision is normal.

Read more about Migraine with Aura here 
Read more about Migraine Aura Without Headache (MAWH) here
Read more about Retinal Migraine here 

W is for Weakness 
Hemiplegic migraine is a rare type of migraine attack. The word ‘hemiplegia’ means paralysis of one side of the body. The defining symptom that distinguishes hemiplegic migraine from other types is muscle weakness.

Like other migraine types, hemiplegic migraine can cause intense and throbbing pain, nausea, and sensitivity to light, sound and smell. The hemiplegic aura causes temporary weakness, numbness and tingling, other sensory disturbances, and/or paralysis on one side of the body. The paralysis can be partial, such as a facial droop, or affect the entire side. You may also experience confusion, difficulty speaking, or vision problems. These symptoms start before any headache, during the aura phase of the attack. Some people do not get any headache at all.

Read more about Hemiplegic Migraine here 

X is for Xerostomia
Xerostomia is defined as a dry mouth resulting from reduced or absent saliva flow. Xerostomia is not a disease, but it may be a symptom of various medical conditions, including migraine. It can also be a side effect of a wide variety of medications. This increased thirst and dry mouth usually occurs as part of the prodrome phase of migraine. 

Read more about the phases of migraine here 

Y is for Yawning 
An often overlooked migraine symptom is yawning. Excessive or repetitive yawning in the absence of fatigue is a symptom that is commonly experienced as part of the prodome phase of a migraine attack. However, it may also occur during the postdrome phase. 

Read more about the phases of migraine here 

Z is for Zooming (Alice in Wonderland Syndrome)
Alice in Wonderland Syndrome (AIWS) is a disorienting neurological condition that causes perceptual disturbances. It is a rare condition that temporarily changes how the brain perceives things. AIWS can affect the way a person perceives: sight, hearing, touch, sensation, and time. The most common visual distortions are micropsia, in which a person sees objects as smaller than they are, and teleopsia, where objects appear farther away than they are in reality.

There are three main categories of AIWS, which differ according to the type of perceptual disorder. Type A, where disorders are somesthetic, or sensory. Type B, which affects visual senses. Type C, which is a mix of types A and B. Type A follows the original definition of AIWS, which involves people feeling as though their body parts are changing size. Type B causes more visual distortions of the surrounding environment. A person with Type C AIWS can perceive both the image of their own body and that of other people or things around them to be changing.

The course of treatment for AIWS depends on the underlying cause. If migraine is the source of the condition, doctors may suggest managing migraine through diet and preventive medication. 

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