Migraine Healthline community members share their prodrome symptoms and how they know a migraine attack is starting.

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In the United States alone, migraine affects as many as 39 million adults and children. For some, migraine is episodic and occurs as isolated attacks. For others, migraine can be a chronic condition.

For people who live with migraine, understanding the causes and stages of a migraine attack can help them manage the duration and severity of an episode.

There are generally four stages of a migraine episode:

  • Prodrome: Approximately 1 to 3 days before the onset of the headache itself.
  • Aura: Approximately 10 to 30 minutes before the headache.
  • Headache: Generally 4 to 72 hours.
  • Postdrome: 24 to 48 hours after the headache.

The prodrome stage, also referred to as the premonitory phase, can start days before the headache itself sets in.

Being able to recognize a migraine attack early on, in the prodrome stage, can make it easier to stop its progression.

Certain prescription drugs such as triptans, can be more effective at halting a migraine episode if taken during the prodrome stage.

If you’re having trouble recognizing the early stages of a migraine attack, it may be a good idea to start writing down your symptoms.

It can also help to hear from others about what prodrome symptoms they typically experience. Members of the Migraine Healthline community shared the signs and symptoms they associate with the prodrome stage of a migraine attack.

Ear pressure

“Until recently, I didn’t realize that ear pressure is part of the migraine. I get ear pressure right before migraine episodes quite regularly, and I always chalked it up to allergies.” — Lilian S.

Mood changes and neck discomfort

“I almost always feel some grumpiness and then neck tightness and pain. That’s a good predictor that an attack is on the way.

I sometimes smell cigarette smoke or cleaning products. I also will sometimes taste root beer no matter what I drink. It’s strange.” — Eileen, Migraine Healthline community guide

Phantom smells

“Migraine can make us very sensitive to smell, and for some, smelling things that aren’t there can be a warning of an incoming attack.” — Courtney Lynn

Sugar cravings

“I crave sugar before attacks, but also afterwards, so it can be hard to tell if it’s a migraine craving or just me having a sweet tooth. When I have strong nausea, I crave pop, like ginger ale or coke.” — Gisela Barbosa

Just feeling “off”

“I’ve never really nailed down what symptoms show up during the prodrome beyond a vague sense of feeling ‘off’. Usually the visual aura is my only cue.

Now, I recognize that ‘off’ feeling during big barometric pressure swings or weather changes, but it’s never a sure thing.” — LeahBee

Restlessness

“For me, the most noticeable symptom that a migraine attack is coming is that I will start to feel restless and uninterested. I find it hard to focus on what I’m doing. Sometimes I also get very thirsty.” — Anonymous

Tongue tingling

“Anyone have tongue tingling as a prodrome symptom? Between that and restless legs, I can’t take it!” — Aimee

It’s important to remember that everyone experiences migraine attacks differently. It can also take a long time to be able to recognize what the different stages of a migraine attack feel like for you.

By keeping track of your symptoms, you may be able to pick up on patterns about what’s triggering your attacks and how long different stages last.

Whether you’re trying to better understand your migraine episodes, exploring new ways to reduce your symptoms, or just looking for a place to vent your frustrations, the Migraine Healthline community is here to help.


Elinor Hills is an associate editor at Healthline. She’s passionate about the intersection of emotional well-being and physical health, as well as how individuals form connections through shared medical experiences. Outside of work, she enjoys yoga, photography, drawing, and spending way too much of her time running.