Migraine is a condition characterized by severe, pounding headaches that usually affect one side of the head. Other symptoms may include nausea, vomiting, visual disturbances, and dizziness, among others.

Symptoms of migraine may depend on several factors, such as the type, duration, and frequency of headaches.

Migraine episodes may last up to 3 days if left untreated, according to the National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke. They’re usually caused by the activation of nerve fibers in the blood vessels of the brain.

A migraine usually evolves in four separate stages, which each have different symptoms. These stages include:

  • prodrome (premonitory) stage
  • aura (visual symptoms or tingling) stage
  • headache (main attack) stage
  • postdrome (recovery) stage

Not all people who get migraine headaches experience all of the stages.

Keep reading to learn more about the symptoms of migraine headaches.

The prodrome stage of a migraine may start up to 2 days before your migraine headaches begin, according to the International Headache Society (IHS).

Symptoms that indicate a migraine may be coming include:

  • fatigue
  • mood changes, such as anxiety or depression
  • neck stiffness
  • nausea
  • tight or sore neck
  • frequent yawning

Learn more about pre-migraine symptoms.

The migraine aura stage happens right before or during a migraine headache. It’s estimated that 1 in 4 people with migraine experience aura symptoms.

The most common aura symptoms are visual disturbances, which may include:

  • seeing bright spots, flashes, or zigzag lines
  • seeing dark spots
  • experiencing vision loss, tunnel vision, or foggy vision

Other symptoms of aura may include:

  • tingling sensations in an arm or leg described as “pins and needles”
  • muscle weakness
  • hearing loss
  • difficulty speaking
  • ringing in the ears (tinnitus)

Migraine auras may last up to 1 hour, but the symptoms are completely reversible.

Learn more about migraine aura.

The migraine headache stage includes the headache and other symptoms. If left untreated, it may last up to 3 days.

During an attack, you might experience the following symptoms:

  • pulsating or throbbing pain on one or both sides of the head
  • extreme sensitivity to light, sounds, or smells
  • worsening pain during physical activity
  • nausea and vomiting
  • abdominal pain or heartburn
  • loss of appetite
  • lightheadedness
  • blurred vision
  • fainting

If you have a migraine headache, you may feel the need to lie down in a dark, quiet room to escape from light, sounds, and movement. You may find that sleeping can help relieve a migraine headache.

During the postdrome (recovery) stage, you may feel tired and drained for up to 2 days as the migraine episode fades slowly.

Other symptoms may include neck stiffness and trouble concentrating.

Learn more about migraine postdrone stage.

Around 10% of children and teens experience migraine headaches.

Symptoms are usually similar to migraine headaches in adults, but children are more likely to also experience gastrointestinal symptoms, such as nausea and vomiting.

Research suggests migraine headaches may also be hereditary. This means a person may have migraine if one of their parents has migraine, too.

Learn more about how migraine can affect children.

There are many different types of headaches, which makes it possible to confuse a migraine headache with others.

However, there are key differences between them:

  • Tension headaches: These cause mild to moderate pain and feel like a tight band around your head. They often disappear within a few hours. You may also experience sensitivity to light.
  • Cluster headaches: These also cause severe pain, but they occur in short, episodic attacks that last days, weeks, or months. A cluster headache may last between 15 minutes to 3 hours and may be accompanied by other symptoms, such as eye redness, watery eyes, and runny nose.
  • Sinus headaches: Approximately 90% of self-diagnosed sinus headaches are, in fact, migraine headaches. Although rare, a sinus headache is caused by infection and causes thick nasal discharge that may be green or yellow.

If you experience recurring headaches, speak with a healthcare professional. They could provide a proper diagnosis and develop a treatment plan for you.

Learn more about the differences between migraine headaches and other types of headaches.

Emergency symptoms to look out for

If you experience any of the following symptoms, get immediate medical attention. These may be a sign of a life threatening complication:

  • you experience a sudden, extremely painful headache
  • difficulty speaking
  • difficulty remembering
  • vision loss or blurry vision
  • fatigue, faintness, or dizziness
  • seizure
  • fever
  • weakness or drooping on one side of your face or body
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Treatment for migraine headaches will depend on the severity, frequency, and type of migraine you experience.

If you’re experiencing a migraine headache, treatments to help relieve pain may include:

  • over-the-counter pain relievers, such as nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs and acetaminophen (Tylenol)
  • prescription medications, such as triptans, CGRP antagonists, and ergotamines

If you experience frequent migraine headaches, a healthcare professional may prescribe prevention medications, such as:

Some natural remedies, such as yoga, dietary changes, and acupuncture, may also help with migraine prevention. However, more research is needed to fully support their benefits.

Keeping a migraine journal can also help you track when you experience headaches, and identify any patterns or triggers. At an appointment, you can show this to a doctor so they can better understand your condition better.

Learn more about medications and natural remedies to treat migraine headaches.

What is the fastest way to get rid of a migraine?

There’s no single trick to get rid of a migraine quickly. Taking over-the-counter pain relievers or prescription acute migraine medications as soon as you experience symptoms may help relieve a migraine. Natural remedies, such as applying a cold compress to your forehead and lying down in a dark, quiet room, may also help.

Can migraine headaches be something more serious?

In rare cases, migraine headaches with aura may indicate complications like stroke. Get immediate medical attention if you experience a sudden, severe headache (thunderclap headache) or a migraine headache with aura symptoms that last longer than 1 hour.

Migraine pain can be severe, and often unbearable. Symptoms may include visual disturbances, dizziness, and gastrointestinal problems.

However, medications and natural remedies are available to reduce the frequency and severity of your migraine headaches.

Speak with a healthcare professional if you regularly experience headaches to discuss your symptoms and develop a treatment plan.