Migraine is More Than a Headache: The Many Symptoms of Migraine
By Kerrie Smyres—January 30, 2012

Pure pain best describes the migraines I’ve had this week. My entire head, including the roof of my mouth, throbs in time with my heartbeat. I hear blood whooshing in my ears.

They demand my attention for hours until, if I’m fortunate, two Midrin let me sleep. When I awake my head is usually still throbbing.

Those who have never had a migraine tend to think of it as a raging headache. While sympathetic folks may understand that the pain is awful, even they don’t realize that a migraine is not only a headache. While it is certainly a major aspect, pain is one of many symptoms of migraine. Personally, pain was a primary concern until I started taking indomethacin last June. Nausea, dizziness and fatigue were often present, but were overshadowed by the pounding. Now, indomethacin generally controls the pain well enough that I’ve been able to see just how debilitating the other symptoms are.

This recent bout with high pain levels has me thinking about how misunderstood migraine is by the general public and even by migraineurs and health care professionals. The pain is a big deal, but it is only a small part of this neurological disorder that impacts the entire body. Migraine: The Complete Guide, a book published by the American Headache Society in 1994, has the most comprehensive list I’ve found. Though the book is old and no longer available this list is invaluable.

Visual Aura (before the pain begins)

  • a bright shape that spreads across the visual field of one eye and appears to block some or all of the vision; can be seen whether the eye is open or closed
  • flashes of light and color
  • wavy lines
  • geometric patterns
  • blurred vision
  • partial loss of sight

Sensory

Motor

  • partial paralysis
  • weakness or heaviness in the limbs on one side of the body

Cognitive

Digestive

Fluid disturbances

  • increased thirst
  • frequent urination
  • bloating/fluid retention

Mental/Personality

  • fatigue, lethargy
  • mood changes
  • irritability
  • high energy
  • irritability
  • depression
  • anxiety
  • nervousness
  • euphoria, feeling of intense well-being

Digestive

  • nausea
  • vomiting
  • intolerance of food odors
  • loss of appetite
  • diarrhea
  • constipation

Skin

  • paleness
  • cold, clammy hands and feet
  • facial swelling
  • goose bumps
  • bloodshot eyes
  • black circles around eyes
  • sweating

Respiratory

Circulatory

  • changes in blood chemistry
  • changes in blood pressure
  • blood vessel dilation
  • difficulty regulating temperature
  • changes in heart rhythms

Though quite detailed, this list is by no means complete. I can add dizziness and trembling. What about you? Which of these symptoms do you have? Do you have other symptoms not listed here?

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About Kerrie Smyres

Now in her late 30s, Kerrie has had chronic migraine since she was 11. She's been writing about migraine and headache disorders on her blog, The Daily Headache, since 2005. Kerrie is also the cofounder of TheraSpecs, which makes eyewear for migraine and photophobia relief.

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