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Not Just a Headache: Migraine’s Other Symptoms

The usual description of migraine includes visual aura, one-sided throbbing pain, nausea, and sensitivity to light and sound. There’s a lot more to it than that. The following information, which comes from my very favorite migraine book, Migraine: The Complete Guide, is a list of the other symptoms of migraine. It’s organized by the phase that the symptoms they occur in and by which part of the body is involved. I’ve made a few changes to the information from the book; most noticable is that I’ve collapsed the book’s sections on aura and prodrome into one.*

Prodrome (the period before the pain begins)

Visual (aka aura)

  • a bright shape that spreads across the visual field of one eye and appears to block some or all of the vision; can be seen whether the eye is open or closed
  • flashes of light and color
  • wavy lines
  • geometric patterns
  • blurred vision
  • partial loss of sight

Sensory

  • numbness or tingling on the face or upper extremities
  • a sense that limbs are a distorted shape or size
  • smelling odors that aren’t actually present (like natural gas or something burning)

Motor

  • partial paralysis
  • weakness or heaviness in the limbs on one side of the body

Language

  • difficulty finding words
  • problems understanding spoken or written language

Cognitive

  • mental confusion
  • disorientation
  • transient global amnesia (similar to amnesia that follows a concussion)

Digestive

  • food cravings (particularly for carbohydrates, candy and chocolate)
  • stomach rumblings
  • constipation

Fluid disturbances

  • increased thirst
  • bloating/fluid retention
  • frequent urination

Mental/Personality

  • mood changes
  • irritability
  • high energy
  • lethargy

Headache Phase

Sensory

  • sensitivity to light and noise
  • intolerance of being touched
  • heightened sensitivity to odors

Digestive

  • nausea
  • vomiting
  • intolerance of food odors
  • loss of appetite
  • diarrhea
  • constipation

Skin

  • paleness
  • cold, clammy hands and feet
  • facial swelling
  • goose bumps
  • bloodshot eyes
  • black circles around eyes
  • sweating

Fluid disturbances

  • water retention
  • frequent urination

Respiratory

  • frequent yawning
  • sighing
  • hyperventilating
  • nasal congestion
  • runny nose

Mental/Personality

  • irritability
  • depression
  • anxiety
  • nervousness
  • difficulty concentrating

Circulatory

  • changes in blood chemistry
  • changes in blood pressure
  • blood vessel dilation
  • difficulty regulating temperature
  • changes in heart rhythms

Postdrome (24 hour following headache)

Cognitive

  • inability to concentrate

Respiratory

  • frequent yawning

Mood/Personality

  • fatigue
  • depression
  • euphoria
  • feeling of intense well-being
  • lethargy

Having the variety of chronic daily headache that is caused my migraine, I’m not convinced that these symptoms only occur in their respective phases. I certainly have different symptoms that don’t seem to be connected to severe headache pain. It could be that people with CDH have trouble knowing when they are in a particular stage or that we experience the symptoms more frequently than in these rigidly defined phases. I also wonder if people who have been diagnosed with tension-type headache experience similar additional symptoms, particularly the cognitive ones. (Don’t take anything in this paragraph as fact — these are my vaguely informed, non-medical musings.)

So you’re not crazy, losing your mind or faking it. Perhaps it’s a link to send to those who question your illness.

*Some sources maintain that an aura only encompasses the visual changes that can happen before a migraine. Others, like this book, include sensory, motor, language and cognitive difficulties as part of aura. The more common approach is that aura is only visual, but one of many symptoms of prodrome.

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