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According to the American Migraine Foundation, migraine is one of the most disabling illnesses on Earth, affecting 1 in 7 people worldwide.

Migraine episodes can cause a variety of symptoms, from light sensitivity to dizziness, and more. Some people even experience body chills. These are most likely due to changes in your brain that can happen when a migraine episode is developing.

Read on to explore the science behind migraine chills, as well as other potential causes of chills, and how to treat migraine and migraine symptoms at home.

Migraine can cause a wide range of symptoms. Many of these vary from person to person. Common symptoms during a migraine attack may include:

  • throbbing or pulsing pain
  • pain in different areas of the head
  • lightheadedness or dizziness
  • nausea or vomiting
  • sensitivity to light and sound

In some people, chills can develop as a migraine symptom during any stage of a migraine episode. Chills may come on a few hours or even a few days before a migraine episode develops.

To understand how body chills may be connected to migraine episodes, it’s helpful to first understand how migraine affects the brain.

According to 2018 research, migraine can lead to both structural and functional changes in the brain. Scientists have observed changes within specific areas and neurons of the brain, as well as nerves outside of the brain. In addition, researchers have found that certain molecules and receptors may also be associated with migraine development.

But how can changes in the brain related to migraine lead to symptoms like sweating, shivering, or body chills? In a 2015 review, researchers hypothesized that most migraine symptoms originate in various areas of the brain. These include your:

  • hypothalamus
  • brain stem
  • cortex

Researchers think that neurological changes in these areas of the brain cause symptoms that appear during the stages before a migraine attack.

Most people experience chills or shivering when their body temperature goes down, and body temperature is controlled by the hypothalamus. One 2020 study also found that women who experience chronic migraine were more likely to report having cold hands or feet. This is most likely due to blood vessel changes occurring with migraine episodes.

In addition, the cerebral cortex is involved in muscle movement, and chills are the result of muscles involuntarily tightening and relaxing. Although shivering is more closely linked to activity in the hypothalamus, the cerebral cortex still plays a role in the way you perceive sensations in your body, such as chills.

Ultimately, changes within these areas of the brain can cause some people to feel chills during a migraine episode, among many other symptoms.

Other causes of chills

While some people may experience chills before or during a migraine episode, chills and headaches have other causes, too. These include:

  • Illness. Viral infections, such as the common cold, and bacterial infections, such as food poisoning, can both cause chills and headaches. Other chronic health conditions, such as leukemia, can cause a wide variety of symptoms, including chills and headaches.
  • Anxiety. Anxiety can trigger the fight-or-flight response and cause a wide range of physical symptoms. These symptoms include sweating, shaking, chills, hot flashes, headaches, muscle aches, and more. When anxiety leads to a panic attack, these symptoms may become even more noticeable.
  • Hypoglycemia. Low blood sugar, which is most often associated with conditions like diabetes, can cause sweating, shaking, body chills, and headaches. Hypoglycemia is a serious condition that requires medical attention and can be fatal if left untreated.
  • Hypothermia. Hypothermia is a condition characterized by a severe drop in body temperature below 95°F. Symptoms of mild hypothermia include chills, shivering, headaches, poor coordination, and more.
  • Overexertion. Overexertion, especially from vigorous exercise, can cause a wide range of symptoms, including body chills and headaches. Overexertion headaches aren’t usually seen with chills, but other conditions that can cause post-workout headaches — such as dehydration — might be.
  • Medication. Certain medications, especially those prescribed for mental health conditions, can cause side effects such as chills and headaches. Other conditions related to medication use, such as medication overuse or serotonin syndrome, may cause these symptoms as well.
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Migraine symptoms can be treated with a variety of different medication options, including both acute medications and prophylactic (preventive) medications.

Acute medications are helpful for relieving symptoms once a migraine attack has already started and can include:

  • painkillers, which relieve pain and inflammation
  • ergotamines, which contract blood vessels to relieve pain
  • triptans, which contract blood vessels and change serotonin levels to relieve pain and inflammation
  • opioids, which relieve pain when traditional painkillers aren’t strong enough

Prophylactic medications are an essential part of migraine prevention for those with chronic migraine and may include:

  • CGRP antagonists, which use antibody therapy to block certain migraine-related compounds
  • beta-blockers, which block the effects of epinephrine (adrenaline) and dilate the blood vessels
  • calcium channel blockers, which regulate blood vessel contraction and dilation
  • antidepressants, which change neurotransmitter levels in the brain
  • anticonvulsants, which calm the nerves in the brain

Generally, any medication that helps relieve your migraine symptoms — whether before an attack or during one — should also help relieve chills if you experience them.

When to seek medical treatment for chills

In most cases, chills that accompany a migraine attack should resolve once the episode ends. However, if the chills don’t get better or are accompanied by any of the following symptoms, you should seek medical attention:

  • fever of 104°F or above
  • body temperature of 95°F or below
  • coughing, wheezing, or shortness of breath
  • neck stiffness or difficulty moving your head
  • confusion or mood changes
  • abdominal pain or pain when urinating
  • frequent urination or no urination
  • vomiting or diarrhea

When these symptoms accompany a severe headache and chills, they can indicate a more serious underlying condition.

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If you experience migraine attacks or any other symptoms of migraine, such as chills, here are some home remedies to consider trying.

Home remedies for migraine

Recent research suggests that migraine prevention can reduce the frequency of attacks by as much as 50 percent when successful. Medications may help you find relief, but you can also consider lifestyle changes to reduce the frequency and severity of your migraine attacks. These may include:

  • Making dietary changes. Common dietary triggers for migraine include cured meats, chocolate, cheese and dairy, alcohol, and certain fruits, to name a few. Replacing these foods with migraine-friendly alternatives may help reduce migraine episode frequency. Adding certain foods to your diet, such as ginger and magnesium, may also help reduce migraine frequency and severity.
  • Engaging in relaxing activities. Stress is a common trigger for many people with migraine, so adding stress-relieving activities to your routine is helpful for migraine prevention. Gentle workouts and activities, such as yoga and massage therapy, can help reduce daily stress levels and lower the frequency of migraine attacks.
  • Considering alternative medicines. Some people have reported finding relief from migraine symptoms through alternative methods. Alternative therapies such as acupressure and aromatherapy may help manage migraine pain. In addition, certain herbal supplements, such as feverfew and butterbur, may help reduce migraine symptoms.

Home remedies for chills

Generally, home remedies are considered the first line of treatment for chills that do not accompany a serious condition. However, you may find that certain treatments work better than others, depending on the underlying cause.

If chills commonly accompany your migraine episodes, treating the underlying migraine should help reduce or even eliminate this symptom. If your chills and headaches have another underlying cause, such as a viral infection or medication use, sometimes over-the-counter or prescription medications can help temporarily relieve symptoms.

However, if you have been experiencing chills that do not go away with home treatments or become worse over time, contact a healthcare professional for further testing.

Migraine episodes can come with a wide variety of symptoms, including chills. Many of these symptoms can be debilitating for people living with migraine.

In some cases, chills can be caused by changes in the brain that happen before or during a migraine attack. In other cases, chills that accompany a headache may indicate a more serious underlying condition.

If you are concerned that your chills may be more than just a symptom of your migraine episodes, reach out to a healthcare professional as soon as possible to discuss your concerns.