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A Doctor's View on Migraine Symptoms

Read the Comment by Melissa Conrad Stöppler, MD

Migraine symptoms include:

  • throbbing head pain (often one-sided and worsens with exertion),
  • eye pain,
  • sensitivity to light and sound,
  • nausea, and
  • vomiting.
Migraine symptoms inhibit daily activities and commonly last from 4 to 72 hours. Read the entire Doctor's View

What are the signs and symptoms of migraines?

The most common symptoms of migraine are:

  • Severe, often "pounding," pain, usually on one side of the head
  • Nausea and/or vomiting
  • Sensitivity to light
  • Sensitivity to sound
  • Eye pain

What is an episodic migraine?

The International Headache Society defines episodic migraine as being unilateral, pulsing discomfort of moderate-to-severe intensity, which is aggravated by physical activity and associated with nausea and/or vomiting as well as photophobia and/or phonophobia (sensitivity to light and sound).

Other migraine symptoms and signs

  • Many patients describe their headache as a one-sided, pounding type of pain, with symptoms of nausea and sensitivity to light, sound, or smells (known as photophobia, phonophobia, and osmophobia). In some cases, the discomfort may be bilateral. The pain of a migraine is often graded as moderate to severe in intensity. Physical activity or exertion (walking up stairs, rushing to catch a bus or train) will worsen the symptoms.
  • Up to one-third of patients with migraines experience an aura, or a specific neurologic symptom, before their headache begins. Frequently, the aura is a visual disturbance described as a temporary blind spot which obscures part of the visual field. Flashing lights in one or both eyes, sometimes surrounding a blind spot, have also been described. Other symptoms, including numbness or weakness along one side, or speech disturbances, occur rarely.
  • Some people describe their visual symptoms of loss of vision, which lasts for less than an hour, and may or may not be associated with head pain once the vision returns, as an ocular migraine. These symptoms are also known as retinal migraine, and may be associated with symptoms similar to those described as an aura, such as blind spots, complete loss of vision in one eye, or flashing lights. If a patient experiences these symptoms regularly, evaluation to exclude a primary retinal problem is needed.
  • Eye pain which is different from sensitivity to light is not a common component of migraine. If eye pain is a persistent symptom, or if eye pain is present and accompanied by blurred vision or loss of vision, then prompt evaluation is recommended.

Migraine vs. tension headache: What's the difference?

A tension headache is described as being bilateral and the pain is not pulsating, but feels like pressure or tightness. While severity can be mild-to-moderate, the headache is not disabling and there is no worsening of the pain with routine physical activity; additionally, there is no associated nausea, vomiting, photophobia, or phonophobia.

How long do they last?

A migraine headache typically lasts for several hours up to several days.

Return to Migraine Headache

See what others are saying

Comment from: Jo, 65-74 Female (Patient) Published: September 11

I have had aura type migraines since I was a child in primary school. They commence with visual disturbance which developed into a row of iridescent multicolored rods in a zigzag row. Though frightening it is possible for me to drive with them if I have to. These disintegrate into a general aura before slowly disappearing. Occasionally it is accompanied by slight weakness in my right arm. When I was young it would develop into a mild headache. They would only occur then about twice yearly. Now between ages 60 and 70 they are more frequent but shorter and milder. I am fit and healthy and go to gym.

Was this comment helpful?Yes
Comment from: Shay6380, 55-64 Female (Patient) Published: July 21

I have what my doctor has diagnosed as migraines but frankly I am not so sure. Until 6/6, I rarely if ever had so much as a headache. I have had one every day since. Intensity depends on the amount of activity I do during the day. They almost always occur late afternoon or early evening. Light or sound does not affect me. Wearing glasses does (which prevents me from reading and that is disappointing), and stress does (which increases daily since I can't work). I was prescribed Trokendi (up to 200 mg) which seems to be helping. Pain is less. But I haven't seen anyone describe their migraines like this.

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Comment from: Catnandu, 35-44 Female (Caregiver) Published: April 19

I had a hemilaminectomy and microdiscectomy on 4/14/16 as outpatient surgery. Sounds as though everyone else had a hospital stay. They sent me home after I got up to urinate (1 or 2 hours after surgery).

Was this comment helpful?Yes

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