Are these Migraine Headache Symptoms?

So you've got this horrible pain in your head – are they migraine headache symptoms?   You're wondering if you should rush to emergency or just put on an ice pack.  Or, you just went to emergency and you're not sure if you can trust the diagnosis!  How exactly is migraine diagnosed?   What are the symptoms?

Is it Migraine Headache?

Migraine headache is really only one possible symptom of the genetically based disease known as migraine. Not all migraine sufferers experience pain!  Migraine headache symptoms are particularly tricky because they're so different in everyone.   Some people see flashing lights, some don't.   Some with migraine get a headache, some don't!  But there are "typical" symptoms that should clue you in quickly that you have a migraine.

How to tell if it's Migraine

Although an article like this can point you in the right direction, if you have any kind of headache with new symptoms, or your worst headache ever - you must go to a doctor right away.

Why?  Because there are some serious and life threatening conditions that may at first look like a more typical headache.  Some conditions can actually masquerade as migraine headache, only to show up later as something else.

Usually doctors can accurately diagnose what type of headache you have by asking questions about your medical history and giving you a physical examination.  Sometimes after that they will recommend more testing.  So how can they tell if you have migraine?

One of the classic symptoms that may accompany migraine is aura, typically strange flashing lights that are seen by the migraineur before the headache hits.  But only about 15% of people with migraine get aura.

The International Headache Society has developed a way of recognizing migraine.  The headaches usually range between 4 and 72 hours (untreated or unsuccessfully treated).  They also include at least two of these symptoms:

   one-sided pain
   throbbing pain
   moderate to severe pain that interrupts your normal life
   made worse by physical activity or makes you avoid activity

and you have at least one of these symptoms:
   nausea/vomiting
   sensitive to light and sound

Again, these symptoms, although typical in migraine, could indicate several other conditions.  Most doctors go beyond these few symptoms and use their familiarity with the overall features of migraine and migraine headache symptoms to diagnose.

ID Migraine

A simple diagnostic tool was developed known as ID Migraine.  Although not comprehensive, it does have a high rate of success for quickly diagnosing migraine. ID Migraine was developed by Dr. Richard Lipton and researchers at Albert Einstein College of Medicine.

ID Migraine is meant to be a tool used by doctors, and it is hoped to solve the problem of many migraines being undiagnosed or misdiagnosed. There are three questions, and if you answer "yes" to at least two of them, you may well be a migraineur:

~Has a headache limited your activities for a day or more in the last three months?
~Are you nauseated or sick to your stomach when you have a headache?
~Does light bother you when you have a headache?


One thing to remember is that "migraine" itself is not technically a headache.   Headache is just one possible symptom of migraine.  Many people have migraine without the headache.  However, headache is often the symptom that tips people off, and that's when they start looking into other migraine headache symptoms.

If you think you have migraine headache symptoms, be sure to talk to your doctor to rule out more serious problems, and also to find treatment. There is help available! Read our page on symptom descriptions to find out more about migraine headache symptoms...


It should be noted that diagnosing migraine is only the first step.  There are many types of migraine, and if you want good treatment, it's critical to get a more specific diagnosis than just "migraine.

For even more on symptoms of migraine in general, check out What is Migraine? (the Story of Symptoms)


*Migraine is sometimes misspelled as migrain headache or migrane - see our misspellings page...