Knowing if you have a symptom of migraines or something else will give you the keys you need to find the right treatment. Even a doctor may misdiagnose you at first, so we're going to look closely at each symptom to see what your head may be trying to tell you!
Things to remember: Remember that the chances are good that you may get more than one
type of headache. You may have a symptom of migraines and tension headaches. Be aware that you may suffer from both!
Secondly, remember that symptoms are not proof, only evidence. Headaches are complex so you should go to your doctor for help. We want to guide you through the facts so that you and your doctor can get to the truth and solve the problem.
You also need to know that a "typical" migraine ain't so typical! You may have drastically different symptoms from me, but still have migraine. Some people even have migraine without pain (silent migraine) or pain not in the head but somewhere else! We're all unique! :)
Finally, remember that your symptoms may change over the years, and you may need to change your treatment to match.
Though only 15-20% of migraine sufferers get an aura, it's one of the clearest signs that you have migraine. Before you get a headache (though the aura may crop up during headache as well) you may get strange symptoms. You may see flashing lights or wavy lines, feel dizzy, or just not feel right. There are several other possible auras as well, so we have a whole article about migraine and aura to give you the facts!
Learn about migraine aura without headache or silent migraine.
You may have heard that migraine involves pain on one side of the head. This is a common (not universal) symptom, but could also indicate a cluster headache or even (though rarely) a tension headache. Migraine pain is usually quite severe, but a tension headache is usually just a dull ache. Read more about tension headache symptoms. The pain usually lasts 1-3 hours (less in children) to 3 days (though rarely that long). Migraines may attack 1-4x per month (though in some people 10 or more times) or only 2 or 3 times over an entire lifetime.
Cluster headaches, in contrast, reach a peak in 5-10 minutes and may only last 45 minutes to 3 hours. Read more about the differences in cluster headaches here.
Another type of pain migraineurs deal with is called allodynia, which is a sensitivity to touch, on the scalp or arms. Read more about allodynia.
Believe it or not, pain is one possible symptom of migraine. Yes, most people with migraines have pain, but some people get migraines with no pain at all (silent migraine - often eye migraine).
Nausea and vomiting are among the most dreaded symptoms. Vomiting may be a sign that your headache is almost over, or that it's just starting. It can sometimes be so severe that it happens over and over in cycles and may cause dehydration.
There are a number of different approaches to treating this symptom. For all the details, read this migraine nausea article.
Light, odours, or noises. It is very typical of migraineurs that they will need to go and lie down in a dark, quiet room. If this sounds like you, you likely have migraine as opposed to cluster headaches, where the sufferer may want to walk around.
We learned on our cause of migraines page (which will help you understand symptom of migraines) that migraines seem to be related to changes in blood vessels and blood flow. Sometimes this can result in strange symptoms, such as changes in skin colour, change in heart rate, or feeling like you have a fever (when you don't).
A migraine may also cause nasal congestion and watery eyes, leading some doctors to think you may have a sinus headache, or sinusitis, in which your sinuses become red and inflamed. Sinusitis, however, lasts for more than just a couple days, and may last weeks or months.
It's been estimated that half of migraine sufferers don't know they have migraine but think they have sinus headache! Technically, migraines activate a nerve cluster which in turn stimulates tear ducts and sinuses. Read this page for more on migraine vs sinus headache. You may also have a fever, pain when your forehead or area under your eyes is touched, and perhaps even swelling around the eyes. If your headache is recurrent and goes away in a few hours or a day or two, you likely don't have sinusitis. As always, if you have new symptoms, talk to your doctor.
This includes diarrhea, constipation, or cramps. Your stomach may even become paralysed (gastroparesis), making oral painkillers ineffective.
You may be irritable not just because of your pain, but because of the way migraine effects your brain (but don't use that as an excuse to yell at your spouse!). Other changes may include: becoming more passive, lower mental ability, restlessness, confusion. You may also have extra energy and euphoria, or even increased creativity! (Don't you wish you could choose your symptoms?!) At the worst, migraine sufferers feel like they're losing control, going crazy, and may even feel suicidal.
You're not alone - just how many people have migraine? What symptoms do they have? Find out these things and much more on our migraine statistics page!
If you have sudden changes in your headaches, loss of balance or muscle weakness, drooping eyelids, neck pain, or a headache made worse when you strain, see your doctor right away.
Special thanks to Dr Joseph Kandel and Dr David Sudderth for their detailed info on symptom of migraines in Migraine – What Works! This is a great reference for migraine sufferers and their families to have on hand. Click the link below to add it to your library...