Medical Author: Melissa Conrad Stöppler, MD
Symptoms of a migraine come from specific physiologic changes that occur within the brain that cause the headache and associated symptoms of a migraine. Migraine headaches are often associated with sensitivity to light, sound, and smells. They may be preceded by an aura, a perceptual change that occurs prior to the headache. The aura may take the form of visual changes, such as partial blindness, or seeing spots or blind spots with a zigzag border. Alterations in smell or hearing can also signify an aura. Hallucinations, feelings of prickly skin, or weakness can also be signs of an aura. Auras usually occur 15-20 minutes prior to a migraine attack and are present in only 15%-20% of migraine sufferers.
The head pain of migraine can be severe and debilitating. It is sometimes described as throbbing or pulsing. It is usually on one side of the head. Sensitivity to light (photophobia), sound, or smells may accompany the head pain. Nausea and vomiting are other common symptoms. Less common symptoms can include speech disturbances, numbness, and eye pain. Migraine symptoms tend to worsen with physical activity.
A prodrome (group of symptoms that precedes a condition) can occur in the days prior to migraine. Symptoms of this prodrome can include
- food cravings,
- neck stiffness,
- diarrhea, or
Causes of migraines
The specific cause of migraines is unknown. One possibility is that they may be related to fluctuations in certain levels of neurotransmitters, chemicals that send messages between brain cells.
Kasper, D.L., et al., eds. Harrison's Principles of Internal Medicine, 19th Ed. United States: McGraw-Hill Education, 2015.
Main Article on Migraine Symptoms and Signs
Pictures, Images, Illustrations & Quizzes
Balance Disorders: Vertigo, Motion Sickness, Labyrinthitis, and More
What is vertigo? What causes dizziness? Understand different balance disorders and symptoms such as vertigo, motion sickness,...
Migraine Headaches: 14 Non-Drug Treatments for Migraines
Learn about 14 non-drug treatments for migraines. Acupuncture, biofeedback and massage therapy are among this list of non-drug...
Migraine or Headache? Migraine Symptoms, Triggers, Treatment
What does a migraine feel like? Discover the difference between headaches and migraines. Learn to spot migraine symptoms early,...
Pictures of Famous People Coping With Migraines
See how celebrities cope with the pain caused by migraines. Learn their methods used to prevent and relieve migraine pain....
Slideshow: 12 Surprising Headache Triggers Tips
Painful headaches can ruin your productivity and quality of life. But what triggers headaches and migraines? Learn some...
Other Causes of Migraine Symptoms and Signs
- Altered Hearing
- Altered Sense of Smell
- Blind Spots
- Eye Pain
- Facial Pain
- Food Cravings
- Neck Pain
- Scalp Tenderness
- Seeing Flashes of Light
- Seeing Spots
- Sensitivity to Sound
- Speech Disturbances
- Stiff Neck
- Vision Changes
Examples of Medications for Migraine Symptoms and Signs
- acetaminophen (Tylenol, Tylenol Arthritis Pain, Tylenol Ext, Little Fevers Children's Fever/Pain)
- amitriptyline (Elavil, Endep)
- diclofenac, Voltaren, Cataflam, Voltaren-XR, Cambia
- eletriptan, Relpax
- frovatriptan - oral, Frova
- ibuprofen (Advil, Children's Advil/Motrin, Medipren, Motrin, Nuprin, PediaCare Fever, and others)
- metoprolol (Lopressor, Toprol XL)
- naratriptan - oral, Amerge
- onabotulinumtoxinA, Botox, Botox Cosmetic
- propranolol, Inderal, Inderal LA, Innopran XL
- rizatriptan disintegrating tablet - oral, Maxalt MLT
- rizatriptan tablet - oral, Maxalt
- sumatriptan, Imitrex, Alsuma, Imitrex STATdose System, Sumavel DosePro
- venlafaxine, Effexor XR (Effexor has been discontinued in the US)
- zolmitriptan, Zomig, Zomig-ZMT
Subscribe to MedicineNet's General Health Newsletter