10 signs that you might be having a migraine

The back of a woman who is holding her head as if she is in a lot of pain
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A migraine can seriously affect your daily life, but “how do I know if I am having one?” A common question many of us are faced with when trying to distinguish the difference between a migraine and a headache. Migraines are horrible (massive understatement!) 1 in 7 people in the UK suffer from migraines, and if you’re included in that 1 in 7, you’ll understand just how debilitating they can be. So how do I know if I’m having a migraine?


1. Intense headache usually on one side of the head

The pain experienced with a migraine is usually different to that of a general headache. The main symptom of a migraine is a throbbing sensation on one side of the head, sometimes experienced on both sides of the head. This pulsating pain can also be felt in the face or neck.


2. Neck Pain

Another common symptom of a migraine is neck pain. Tightness and stiffness of the neck can occur during the prodromal stage (first phase) of a migraine. Contrary to popular belief, neck pain is a symptom of a migraine, and not a cause.


3.  1 in 3 people with a migraine will experience “aura”

An aura is a symptom of the nervous system. Aura is usually experienced before a migraine presents, and can act as a warning sign. They usually present themselves as

  • 1. visual disturbances (such as seeing flashing lights, blind spots or zig-zag patterns)
  • 2. pins and needles or a sensation of numbness (that can affect your legs, hands, arms or face)
  • 3. dizziness or feeling like you are off balance
  • 4. difficulty speaking
  • An aura usually lasts between 5 – 60 minutes, and usually occurs around an hour before the migraine begins.


4. Changes in your mood

Changes in mood affect around 60% of those that experience migraine. This can start from as early as a day before. Whilst some sufferers will be left feeling depressed, anxious or irritable, others may find themselves feeling cheerful, hyperactive or excited. The link between changes in mood and migraines is not fully quite understood, but it is thought to possibly have something to do with genetics and hormones.


5. Food Cravings!

Before an attack, many people experience food cravings. It’s common to crave foods that are high in sugar such as chocolate, before the onset of a migraine.


6. Sensitivity to light, sound and smells

One of the most common symptoms of a migraine, is increased sensitivity to light, sound and smell. Naturally, a majority of sufferers who experience this symptom will retreat to a darkened room to escape light, sound or smell, which can aggravate the migraine.


7. Nausea and Vomiting

Abrupt changes in brain chemistry during a migraine can activate the “vomiting centre” in the brain. As a result, nausea and vomiting can be experienced during a migraine.


8. Urinating more frequently

Urinating more frequently than usual can be another sign that a migraine is on its way. It’s one of the many warning signs that can possibly occur before a migraine attack.


9. Diarrhoea and Constipation

Whilst the exact cause of migraines remains unknown, it is thought that hormones have a large part to play. One of the hormones that is thought to play a role in migraines is serotonin. Serotonin is found in the brain and the digestive system, and there is thought to be a link, whereby those experiencing migraines, will also experience gastrointestinal problems such as diarrhoea and constipation before or after a migraine.


10. Extreme Tiredness and Yawning

Tiredness and yawning can be another sign. Excessive yawning every few minutes and feeling more tired than usual often occur before a migraine is about to strike.


If you are experiencing any of the above symptoms, you should visit your GP to get a diagnosis. Whilst there is no cure for migraines, there are treatment options available. Medication such as Sumatriptan work by narrowing blood vessels in the brain, preventing the signals responsible for causing migraines from being sent. You should discuss these options with your GP. You can also visit the NHS website available for more information about this condition.

Whilst all of our content is written and reviewed by healthcare professionals, it is not intended to be substituted for or used as medical advice. If you have any questions or concerns about your health, please speak to your doctor.