Migraine symptoms are caused by a complex interaction among neurotransmitter chemicals, blood vessels, and nerves in the brain. Because the brain and nervous system control all parts of the body, migraine symptoms can affect more than just the head.

Headache

Headache is the primary migraine symptom. The type of pain helps distinguish a migraine headache from other types of headaches. Migraine pain is most often a pulsing or throbbing pain that typically occurs on only one side of the head, but can shift, and can also involve the whole head. It usually gets worse with physical exertion, such as climbing stairs. The most common site for pain is in the temple or behind the eye, but pain is sometimes felt in the back of the head, the neck, the face, the jaw, the shoulders, and upper back as well.

Read about other causes of headaches.

Other Migraine Symptoms

Other than intense headache pain, migraine is usually accompanied by other symptoms that make working or doing everyday tasks difficult or impossible. These symptoms go away soon after headache pain ends and include:

  • nausea
  • vomiting
  • loss of appetite
  • fatigue
  • dizziness
  • pale or clammy skin
  • blurred vision
  • sensitivity to light, sound, touch, or odors
  • feeling uncomfortably hot or cold

Auras

In 15 to 20 percent of migraine sufferers, auras serve as a sort of warning sign that a migraine headache is about to occur. Aura symptoms generally last for 15 minutes to an hour. Most arise before the onset of headache symptoms, but they can also happen during or after a headache. The most common types of auras are visual. Visual auras include:

  • flashing lights or dots
  • wavy or jagged lines
  • distorted or blurry vision
  • blind spots or temporary loss of part or all of the field of vision in one or both eyes

Auras can take a variety of forms in different people. The following are other manifestations of migraine auras:

  • ringing in the ears
  • strange odors or tasting strange tastes
  • numbness or tingling sensation
  • muscle weakness
  • dizziness/vertigo
  • trouble speaking
  • confusion

Many of these alternate aura symptoms are similar to the symptoms of stroke. If you experience any of the above symptoms and have not had the same symptoms previously before a migraine headache, you should seek medical care.

Read about other causes of visual aura.

Anxiety and Depression

A majority of migraine sufferers do not experience auras. These people may experience anxiety, depression, and fatigue several hours before a migraine headache begins.

Find out other causes of depression and anxiety.