Migraine is a neurological disorder that occurs as a result of various triggers to the nervous system.
Individuals who have migraines have a nervous system that processes information differently than those who do not have migraines. The brain of a migraineur reacts to triggers such as light, sound, smell, stress, changes in sleep, etc more easily than the brain of someone without a migraine. In addition, once the brain of a migraineur is activated, it responds to that signal for a longer period of time. This heightened sensitivity and “lowered threshold” for stimulus and triggers often causes a migraine cycle.
It is helpful to understand the four phases of a migraine in order to learn how your brain and body are responding to the world around you. This understanding can help you recognize and respond to your migraines more effectively.
1. Prodrome (Pre-Migraine Phase)
When it happens: Several hours to up to two days in advance.
Frequency: About 60% of those with migraines will experience this phase.
Possible symptoms: Loss of appetite, muscle pain (especially in the head, neck, shoulders), anxiety, unexplained energy or feelings of euphoria, irritability, difficulty concentrating, food cravings, sensitivity to light, smells or noise, fatigue with frequent yawning.
How to Respond: Learn to listen to your body’s unique cues to the beginning stages of a migraine. It can be helpful to record these symptoms on a migraine tracking app or printable calendar. Recognizing these symptoms and the patterns your body exhibits before a migraine attack can help you effectively treat the migraine – and provide a window of opportunity to stop the migraine process. During this phase, I stop to evaluate what triggers are causing a shift in my body – did I eat something that I am reacting to, am I under high stress, did I sleep poorly the night before, etc. and this helps guide my response, which may include homeopathic remedies for digestion, meditative deep breathing, resting, an epsom salt bath, extra hydration, and more.
2. Aura Phase (Pre-Migraine Phase)
When it happens: About an hour before to right when the headache strikes.
Frequency: About 20% of those with migraines experience this phase, but not necessarily with each migraine.
Possible symptoms: Changes in vision, such as flickering, shimmering or flashing lights, tunnel vision, difficulty focusing, spots of vision loss or zigzag lines that cross your line of sight; skin sensations, such as numbness in your extremities or feelings of tingling or “pins and needles” in the face or hands; trouble speaking, writing or understanding words; muscle weakness
How to Respond: Listen to your body’s signals of distress and take a moment to evalulate your options. If you have a migraine toolkit with natural interventions, utilize those first combined with ice or heat applied to the neck and/or head, a massage, and rest in a cool, quiet location.
3. Attack Phase (Migraine Phase)
When it happens: This is when the actual headache strikes; it can last for hours up to several days.
Frequency: 100% if the migraine is untreated.
Possible symptoms: Mild headache gradually develops into severe headache, throbbing or pulsing pain, often on one side but sometimes both sides of the head; sensitivity to light, sounds and sometimes smells; nausea and vomiting; blurred vision; light-headedness and/or fainting
How to Respond: Listen to your body’s signals of distress and take a moment to evalulate your options. If you have a migraine toolkit with natural interventions, utilize those first combined with ice or heat applied to the neck and/or head, a massage, and rest in a cool, quiet location. Ask a family member or friend to check on you over the next few hours and assist with any needs you have. Seek medical attention for unusual symptoms or migraines lasting longer than 48 hours.
4. Postdrome (Post-Migraine Phase)
When it happens: After the attack phase has subsided, the symptoms of a migraine often persist for 24-48 hours.
Frequency: Most people who experience the attack phase will experience some form of postdromal phase.
Possible symptoms: Extreme fatigue, sluggishness, confusion, irritability, head pain if you move too quickly or bend over, migraine may return, low appetite, liver toxicity, memory lapses.
How to Respond: If you’ve been taking acute medications or over-the-counter pain relievers, start to reduce your use of them in order to avoid a rebound headache and overburdening your liver. Support your body’s detoxification via epsom salt baths, organic vegetable juice, light to moderate movement and exercise, prioritize plenty of rest, and eating a nutrient-dense anti-inflammatory diet (stay tuned for a new post about some of the best anti-inflammatory foods for migraineurs).
We can’t stress enough how important it is to understand these phases of the migraine attack and develop awareness about your unique symptoms. If you are new in your journey of healing, we recommend keeping track of your migraine cycle, symptoms, medications, diet, sleep, stress, etc on a monthly calendar. Tracking your migraines will help you recognize the symptoms you experience during the various migraine phases as well as help your doctor and healthcare team understand your body’s unique migraine pattern and triggers. The goal is to recognize the symptoms and stop the migraine as soon as possible. Would you like help working through this process? I’ve been through it myself after living with chronic migraines for over 15 years – and finally becoming migraine-free by utilizing a functional medicine approach. Would you like to learn more about how functional medicine can resolve chronic illness, such as migraines? Check out more information here.