Migraine episodes may last anywhere from a few hours to multiple days. Seek medical attention if your symptoms last longer.

A migraine attack typically lasts from 4 to 72 hours but can also last longer. It can be difficult to predict how long an individual episode will last, but charting its progress may help.

Migraine episodes can usually be divided into four or five distinct stages. Not all people with migraine experience each of these phases during each episode. Phases can include:

  • warning or premonitory phase
  • aura (not all people with migraine experience this phase, and those who do may not experience it during every episode)
  • headache, or main attack
  • resolution period
  • recovery or postdrome stage (not all people with migraine experience this phase, and those who do may not experience it during every episode)

Some of these phases may only last briefly, whereas others may last much longer. You may not experience each phase with every episode you have. Keeping a migraine journal can help you track any patterns and prepare for what’s to come.

Keep reading to learn more about each stage, what you can do to find relief, and when to see a doctor.

Sometimes, migraine can begin with symptoms that have absolutely nothing to do with a headache.

These symptoms can include:

  • craving certain foods
  • increased thirst
  • stiff neck
  • irritability or other mood changes
  • fatigue
  • anxiety

Premonitory symptoms can last anywhere from 1 to 24 hours before the aura or headache phases begin.

About 25% of people with migraine experience aura. Aura symptoms typically happen before the headache, or main attack, occurs. It often occurs 10 to 30 minutes before the headache pain begins.

Aura symptoms can last anywhere from 5 minutes to 1 hour.

Aura can include a wide range of neurological symptoms. You may see:

  • colored spots
  • dark spots
  • sparkles or “stars”
  • flashing lights
  • zigzag lines
  • “heat waves”

You may feel:

You may also experience disturbances in speech and hearing. In rare cases, fainting and partial paralysis are possible.

Although these symptoms usually precede a migraine headache in adults, it’s possible for them to occur at the same time. Children may be more likely to experience an aura at the same time as their headache.

In some cases, aura symptoms may come and go without ever leading to a headache.

Most cases of migraine aren’t accompanied by aura symptoms. Migraine without aura moves directly from the warning stage into the headache stage.

Headache symptoms are typically the same for migraine with and without aura. They may include:

During a migraine attack, many people may be unable to work or continue with their usual daily activities.

This phase is the most unpredictable, with episodes lasting anywhere from a few hours to a few days.

Many migraine headaches gradually fade in intensity. Some people find that taking a nap can help relieve their symptoms. Children may only need to rest a few minutes to see results. This is known as the resolution phase.

As the headache begins to lift, you may experience the recovery phase. This can include a feeling of exhaustion or even of elation. You may also feel:

  • moody
  • dizzy
  • confused
  • weak

Your symptoms during the recovery phase may pair with symptoms you experienced during the warning phase. For example, if you lost your appetite during the warning phase you may now find that you’re ravenous.

These symptoms may last for up to a day after your headache.

There isn’t one right way to treat a migraine. If your migraine episodes are infrequent, you may be able to use over-the-counter (OTC) medications to treat symptoms as they occur.

If your symptoms are chronic or severe, OTC treatments may not be helpful. A doctor may be able to prescribe stronger medication to treat existing symptoms and help prevent future attacks.

Home remedies

Sometimes, changing your environment may be enough to relieve the bulk of your symptoms.

If you can, seek solace in a quiet room with minimal lighting. Use lamps instead of overhead lighting, and draw the blinds or curtains to block sunlight.

The light from your phone, computer, TV, and other electronic screens may exacerbate your symptoms, so limiting your screen time may help.

Applying a cold compress and massaging your temples may also provide relief. If you aren’t feeling nauseous, upping your water intake may also be helpful.

It can also help to track, identify, and avoid what’s triggering your symptoms. This may help reduce symptoms and prevent them from recurring.

Common triggers can include:

OTC medication

OTC pain relievers may help with symptoms that are mild or infrequent. Common options include:

  • aspirin (Bayer)
  • ibuprofen (Advil)
  • naproxen (Aleve)

If your symptoms are more severe, you may want to try a medication that combines a pain reliever and caffeine, such as Excedrin. Caffeine has the potential to both trigger and treat migraine episodes, so you may want to avoid this product unless you’re sure that caffeine isn’t a trigger for you.

These medications shouldn’t be used more than 10 to 15 days per month. Doing so can lead to medication overuse headaches.

Prescription medication

If OTC options aren’t working, you may decide to talk with a doctor.

They may be able to prescribe stronger, more targeted medications to help ease the pain.

This may include triptans, such as:

If your migraine episodes are chronic, a doctor may also prescribe medication to help prevent future episodes. These medications may include:

  • Calcitonin-gene-related peptide (CGRP) antagonists: rimegepant (Nurtec ODT) or ubrogepant (Ubrelvy)
  • Selective serotonin 1F receptor agonist: lasmiditan (Reyvow)

They may also prescribe medication to help relieve nausea.

If you’re experiencing a migraine episode for the first time, you may be able to relieve your symptoms with home remedies and OTC medications.

But if you’ve had multiple migraine episodes, you may want to make an appointment with a doctor. They can assess your symptoms and develop a treatment plan tailored to your individual needs.

You should see your doctor right away if:

  • Your symptoms began after a head injury.
  • Your symptoms last longer than 72 hours.
  • You’re 40 years old or older and are experiencing a migraine for the first time.
  • You develop a sudden severe headache.
  • You’re over the age of 50.
  • Your headaches have changed in quality.
  • You have a headache that occurs with neurological symptoms, such as weakness on one side of the body, numbness, loss of vision, loss of consciousness.

A migraine episode typically lasts anywhere from 4 to 72 hours.

It consists of four or five phases during which you may experience other symptoms. During the headache phase, you may experience throbbing pain and sensitivity to light, sound, smell, or touch.

A doctor can prescribe prescription medication that may help relieve pain and prevent future episodes.