If you’ve ever had a migraine, you probably know there’s more to it than head pain alone. One of the key things that separates migraines from other headaches are the additional symptoms that come with the intense pain. These include visual disturbances, nausea, vomiting, dizziness, tingling or numbness, and increased sensitivity to sound, light, touch, and smell.
Read on to learn more about these additional migraine symptoms and what you can do about them.
Studies show that about 20 percent of people who get migraines experience auras. An aura is a change in your vision. It’s often described as flashing lights, seeing stars, wavy vision, or geometric patterns and shapes. For some, an aura can also include a tingling or numb feeling on the face, hands, or arms, hearing noises or music, and movements or jerking you can’t control.
This usually happens before the headache pain and is considered a warning that a migraine is coming.
When you notice an aura, this is a good time to take an abortive or rescue medication, says Dr. Clifford Segil, a neurologist at Providence Saint John’s Health Center. Getting the migraine under control with over-the-counter medications like ibuprofen during the aura stage can actually prevent the other symptoms from happening, says Dr. Segil.
“If you want to treat [the migraine] early, you want to hit it hard,” says Dr. Krishna Pokala, a neurologist at Seton Brain and Spine Institute. “The longer the warning symptoms linger, the less [it’s] likely of rescue meds working well … If you take them as soon as your aura kicks in, you’ll have good pain prevention.”
Migraines commonly cause some type of digestive disturbance. The severity can vary from person to person. In the day or two leading up to a migraine, some people experience constipation. To be classified as a true migraine, Dr. Pokala says the headache must also include nausea either before, after, or during. Nausea can be mild or include vomiting.
Taking a mild antinausea medication when you feel the migraine coming on can prevent this from getting worse.
Stopping the overall migraine from getting worse can also end the nausea. That’s why it’s important to recognize your early warning signs and take a rescue medication as soon as possible.
Sensitivity to light and sound usually happens around the same time the pain kicks in. You may find it hard to be around lights or noises. The best way to help with this is to get yourself to a dark, quiet room and rest for a bit until your rescue mediation begins to work.
People who work on computers can experience eye strain before a migraine intensifies, says Dr. Pokala. If you notice a pattern between your screen time and when your migraines happen, try wearing filtered sunglasses when you’re on the computer. Filtered sunglasses can help protect you from some of the artificial light that comes from computer and phone screens.
The later stages of a migraine can leave you feeling drained or confused. If you’re having trouble thinking or concentrating, take a break from what you’re doing and give yourself a rest. You likely need some additional time to recover.
Sometimes it’s not the migraine itself causing confusion, but the side effects caused by medications used to treat it. Topamax is one prescription medication that can cause trouble thinking or thinking slowly, says Dr. Pokala.
Pay attention to when you feel confused or have any issues thinking and concentrating. Is it before a migraine or after? If you noticed the difference since you started a particular medication, make sure to tell your doctor.
If you’re struggling with migraines and their disabling symptoms, a neurologist can help you figure out your unique triggers and the behavior of your migraine symptoms. Based on your needs, the doctor can recommend a treatment plan.
In general, neurologists agree that practicing overall healthy habits — getting good quality sleep, exercising, eating well, not smoking, and not drinking too much alcohol — can help keep migraines at bay.