8 Things Everyone Needs to Know About Migraine

8 Things Everyone Needs to Know About Migraine

Everyone, whether they have migraine or not, should know these eight things about migraine.

1. “Migraine” is not synonymous with “bad headache.”
If a person has a bad headache, they do not automatically have a migraine. Migraine is a neurological disorder that 12% of Americans1 have and research increasingly shows that it is genetic. When someone “has a migraine,” they are experiencing an attack of this neurological disorder. If someone does not have the underlying neurological disorder, it is impossible for them to have a migraine attack.

2. Head pain is not the only symptom of migraine.
Impaired vision, nausea and heightened sensory sensitivity (to light, sound, smells and touch) are the most well-known migraine symptoms. But, because migraine is a neurological disorder, its symptoms can be felt in any part of the body – it can increase the frequency of urination, change blood pressure or heart rhythms and cause nasal congestion, brain fog, mood changes, temporary paralysis and many, many more symptoms. Not everyone has all of these symptoms and they can vary in each person during different migraine attacks. It’s even possible to have a migraine attack with no pain at all.

3. For 90% of people with migraine, attacks are disabling.
World Health Organization research found that the pain phase of a migraine is as disabling as quadriplegia2. This may seem melodramatic or impossible, but most people who have endured a migraine understand how accurate it is. Moving exacerbates the pain so much that even scooting over an inch in bed can be too painful to bear. Getting up to go to the bathroom or to get medication from another room can be nearly impossible.

4. Painkillers are not a panacea.
Over-the-counter or prescription painkillers help some people during a migraine attack, but not the majority of us. And “help” usually means that it reduces the pain somewhat, but does not eliminate the migraine. Adding caffeine to a painkiller tends to make them more effective. In addition, painkillers and caffeine can have a rebound effect, ultimately triggering more migraine attacks.

5. A migraine is not over when the most painful phase passes.
There are four distinct phases of migraine. The part most people are familiar with is the third stage, which is the most painful. The fourth stage is postdrome (or migraine hangover) and, while not as painful as the third phase, can feel as horrible as influenza, including a headache, heavy fatigue and impaired thinking. Postdrome usually last longer than the acute phase and, for some people, it can drag on for days.

6. During a migraine, thinking and finding words are difficult, decision-making ability is impaired, and a person can be extremely irritable.
These are among the migraine symptoms that few people recognize — even some people who have migraine don’t know about them — but they can have a huge impact on our interactions with others. Carrying on or even following conversations is difficult and we often seem angry when we’re not. This is partly due to pain and feeling horrendous, but the neurological activity in the brain during a migraine is the major culprit. Even when the pain lets up, it can take a while for our thinking to return to normal.

7. People who have migraine are not more stressed out than those without migraine.
Stress is unavoidable and it affects people in different ways. For those with underlying medical conditions — migraine, heart disease, rheumatoid arthritis — stress may cause a flare up of that condition. For those who are otherwise healthy, stress can make a person sleep poorly, eat too much, or have a hair-trigger temper. Anyone, whether they have migraine or not, can benefit from learning to better cope with stress. It’s not that people who have migraine don’t manage stress effectively, but that migraine is sometimes their body’s response to the stressors that are inherent in being human. Many migraineurs don’t find stress to be a migraine trigger at all.

8. Lifestyle changes are often beneficial for people with migraine, but they aren’t always sufficient.
Dietary changes, exercise, eating at regular times, keeping to a sleep schedule and meditation can all help in the management of migraine. (All of those things could also probably improve the lives of people who don’t have migraine.) These changes alone are rarely enough to stop the migraine attacks completely. Also, some people have migraine attacks that are so frequent and severe that lifestyle changes are impossible to implement.

This article represents the opinions, thoughts, and experiences of the author; none of this content has been paid for by any advertiser. The Migraine.com team does not recommend or endorse any products or treatments discussed herein. Learn more about how we maintain editorial integrity here.
View References
  1. American Migraine Prevalence and Prevention Study
  2. World Health Organization. The Global Burden of Disease, 2004 Update.

Comments

View Comments (28)
  • clm65
    1 year ago

    Thank you. Your article was reassuring for me. I started having migraines in 2015. This has been a learning experience. I had to leave work today due to migraine. I was wondering, do people experience tremors prior to an attack?. This was happening for 2 days prior, very slight and not lasting very long.

  • aks868
    2 years ago

    Thank you again, and I have a question: Would you mind if I copied some of your article, gave you credit, and shared it with my friends and family via facebook? Sometimes, when you suffer from a chronic condition, I find that you need to re-explain things every so often.

  • Joanna Bodner moderator
    2 years ago

    Have you “liked” our Facebook page? Many of our members share numerous articles for the same exact reasons you speak of! You are definitely not alone in this frustration. We hope our articles serve as a great resource for you AND for your friends and family! 🙂

    Thanks for being part of our community!
    -Joanna (Migraine.com Team)

  • aks868
    2 years ago

    Thank you so much for this article! I have been told so many times that mediating and not getting anxious will help my migraines–which just feels like blaming the patient to me–especially as a panic/anxiety attack is often part of my prodrome! And then your point about the postdrome rings so true–I do feel like I have the flu–and it is so important not to be hard on ourselves for not feeling up to doing a lot of things during that time. Thank you again!

  • kanzz
    5 years ago

    Outstanding article! The only thing I would add would be a side note to #3. While it is true that a full-blown attack is quite disabling, migraines, like any other type of pain, come in levels from 1 to 10. If I catch my migraine early enough and take abortive meds, I might be able to keep my pain level at a 5 or less. If I can keep it low enough, I go to work. My cognitive function might not be 100%, but it’s adequate. Therefore, I would say that it is a myth that one cannot function with a migraine. And that’s another thing everyone needs to know.

  • Tifaney Angeli
    3 years ago

    I completely agree with that last comment Kanzz. Anyone who has suffered with migraines gets to know them intimately. You know when they are coming, you know when they are going to be really bad, you know what the limits are, how hard you can push or when it’s time to go lie in a dark room. Sometimes you can still perform thru a migraine and make it a full day. Not every migraine is the same, even for the same person.

  • luna
    4 years ago

    I would also add, to #3, that some migraines, in the worst of the pain phase, are accompanied by an inability to stay still. This is equally incapacitating, when the body is screaming for rest and for the pain to just STOP, but pacing or rocking back and forth are the only option, until the pain level decreases, a bit. There’s absolutely no going about the activities of normal life. It’s just repetitive movement — without which, the pain is so horrible, that one can easily be convinced they are about to actually die. This has been the manifestation, for me, with the worst of my migraines, for the last 33 years.

  • Varvara
    5 years ago

    Amen! to everything you wrote, particularly the last statement, “Also, some people have migraine attacks that are so frequent and severe that lifestyle changes are impossible to implement.” People without migraines, even doctors, don’t realize that it can be almost impossible to make so-called ‘positive’ lifestyle changes because the changes themselves could be triggers, such as being more active.

  • Varvara
    5 years ago

    Addendum to above: I would love to post your article everywhere, so that others have a better understanding of what we struggle with (on a daily basis for many of us).

  • skinnydebs
    5 years ago

    Your comments tell the story and the life of someone with migraine. I am up out of bed (24/7) today for the first time since last wednesday. I am now in the horrible hangover stage. I would love to say my hangover was from being out with family and friends and the result of a great night out. But no that does not happen to me. I get the migraine hangover. Everything you have said Kerrie is so accurate. I am reading my own life, although I live in Ireland. I had my7th botox session last tuesday and its just starting to take effect now. Thank God, so I will be up for how long I dont know,but it will all be catch up as usual, get as much done as I can before the next one. My goal now is to try to get some gentle exercise and walk but it has to be a very good migraine day for that as just walking around the house can be too much for my head. I have great faith in botox as I have tried all other available medications and botox helps me and I know that one day I will control my migraines and not the other way around and that good days are just around the corner. I am only new to the forum but i find it very good, informative and its from people who understand. Thank you, Debbie

  • Heather Benton
    5 years ago

    As I read your comments I felt I was reading about my own life! I too have sibling who just don’t get it, and it hurts! (I will add my father is the worst) I also have had migraines for most of my life, many others in my extended family do. However many don’t have them CHRONICALLY like I do…I haven’t worked in over 8 years, I don’t drive, I miss out on so much of my 3 children’s life, I don’t have many friends I see often, and you nailed it, it can be extremely lonely! I have a wonderful husband, I am not sure where I would be without him. I feel bad for him, being stuck with ME the sickly wife who is always in bed! Not a lot of fun, other couples have stop asking us to attend party’s because I usually cant attend.
    NMIGRAINES are not see for what they are! I tire of well meaning people who offer advice, after 35 or so years I don’t need advice..just understand I am not enjoying this ride. Endless days or weeks in bed, and its not so much the PAIN that gets me anymore, its part of me! Its the life I gave up, the old me that is gone, the feeling of looking in the mirror in disgust but the thought of getting pretty brings me to tears, the medications I have tried, the weight I gained from the drugs(but I just need to get out and walk more), the horrible feeling I have when I really dread moving in the morning when I know I have to get my 13 year old ready for school.(he doesn’t remember me anything but SICK) He always has been very caring and understanding, even as a young child…but now his a teen and we all know how their life is #1 for them, I see his frustration with me know. My oldest son had very bad migraines since he was very young, not that a doctor would listen to me. HE is soon to be 20 and thankful they are not as bad. My 13 year old also has had them, heartbreaking to watch…his were presented with instant and unexplained severe VOMITING. Followed by the intense pain! He thankfully is a great kid to listen to my advise, realize his triggers, and knows he just cant keep the pace of every other kid.
    I hope you can find some comfort in knowing that many MIGRAINE SUFFERS experience the same issues. I hope the more info that gets out to non suffers that we will be better understood. I am not sure if people on this site are mainly from the US or Canada…but I will tell you that I am from Canada and a province that has little to no support for suffers, and the treatments available are extremely limited even to other provinces in Canada. Another area where you just feel let down again, I gave up on new doctors long ago. And never hit the ER…I am just sick of feeling like a crazy person. So I stay in my dark, smell free, cool and comfy bedroom…far to much…as you said its just being alone. I cant expect of kids and husband to stop living, so as they go through their days,,,I am home alone….no beach days, or movie nights out, no having a catch outside, or taking sports trips away (its to hard on me they say..translate we don’t want to have to deal with you and your sensitive ways)So home I will be, in the country with no car, in my room…I do have 4 adorable cats that are at my side 24-7, they are none judging and very in tune to how I feel. 🙂
    I wish you better days ahead…

  • Sunshine
    4 years ago

    Hi All, my reading & writing tolerance is really low right now. I will get my daughter to help me with a “My Migraine” story soon. I do wonder if anyone has had any one else has problems with reading, writing, sleeping (to the extent of going 6-8 literal days with NO sleep) visual disturbances with stairs (they look like they are coming up towards me) if they have many dental issues from meds and other things. I am at a point with my GP where I just give up. But in a area where we have a severe Dr’s shortage….. I have no choice!!! Just some ? To help my sanity. Thank you!!!
    Marcie

  • Sunshine
    4 years ago

    Hi Heather,
    I live in Ontario Canada. Just reading over your post, I had a good cry & took some deep breaths.
    I’m not sure how much sense I’ll make. I’ve been having an xtra rough time lately. I totally identify with loosing one’s “Self”.
    There’s more but I have already lost the words I longed to say. I can’t read to long, or write much. It increases my nausea. Sometimes by a lot. I don’t remember my last totally migraine free day. I’ve seen 5 neurologist’s. Botox is a big push, but I have no benefits. I lost them when I could no longer get my migraines to a level where I could function enough to work.
    Incase you would like to talk, my email addy is marcia.penney@yahoo.ca
    Take Care!!
    Marcie

  • Kathy
    5 years ago

    Im going to drop this off at are ER when I go they put headache I tell then its not just a headache its a migraine…. the nurse tells me thats just a diagnosis I told her I have had this one since November so I know what the diagnosis is I just need help with the pain…..

  • kanzz
    5 years ago

    I’m an RN. I’ve tried and TRIED to get our IT dept to add “Migraine” to our list and they simply refuse to do it. They tell me to pick “Headache”. We go round and round about this. Burns my ass.

  • Heather Benton
    5 years ago

    LOL GOOD IDEA!

  • migrainestl
    5 years ago

    Thank you Thank you Thank you for so simply detailing exactly what it’s like to have migraines. I don’t normally tweet or post about my migraines, but this article I’ve shared twice today! Thanks so much

  • Janet
    5 years ago

    Kerrie

    I didn’t think you could top any of your own articles..but this one is spot on as everyone has already commented below. I dare not share articles anymore no matter how informative as I have the most insensitive family on the planet. I am not referring to immediate..my husband may get exasperated ..frustrated..but knows he best not placate me. However I have 3 siblings ..who are and I quote “sick of hearing about your migraines……” What a slap in the face. Knowing my siblings ..the pain I’ve endured over the past 38 years they couldn’t do for a week let alone a day. My husband emailed them to somewhat familiarize them with migraine and what their sister was going through these past years…but the email more sounded like a poor me husband of the disabled ..so while I know he meant well..2 responses came with “sorry for you Bob”… Or “yes Janet has shared some of this with me from time to time..it really must be hard for you to deal with that on a daily basis.” So help me Kerrie…or anyone..if people don’t care…they don’t care. I can’t make anyone understand if there is no interest. I have literally lost all my friendships because I don’t know anyone anymore in my life willing to come and have a cup of tea or sit with me at home when I’m unable to drive because of some symptom of migraine that day. This is the most depressed and isolated time I’ve ever experienced in my life. So if I can’t get out ..it’s me, myself and I. While I love migraine.com and all it’s members and the awesome articles….it doesn’t substitute for a real live human being to sit with..so laugh with..to be with.

    Blessings
    Janet Jones

  • Kerrie Smyres moderator author
    5 years ago

    Thank you all for your kind words. I’m so glad you find this article helpful. I have had to describe all these things to non-migraineurs so many times that I thought it would be handy to have them all in one short article!

  • bluesjr
    5 years ago

    At 60, I’ve been having increasing migraines now for 3 years and have been struggling to make sense of it, reading everything I could find online. Your write-up is the best, most concise, and comprehensive I’ve seen. Many thanks. It gave me a kind of relief similar to when someone really sees or hears you for the first time.

    I have many times tried to explain #6, the cognitive disfunction that hits me so hard sometimes. To tell someone you’re having a headache does not begin to describe the total brain meltdown and impairment that can happen when having to think, interact, or make decisions.

  • Heather Benton
    5 years ago

    I understand the cognitive impairment. it is greatly frustrating and I find it embarrassing. my speech is what can be a warning sign of one to come, finding words, miss speaking, and just total lack of thinking clearing, remembering things.
    Not many would get it that having a migraine could affect so many other areas of you body.
    INFORMING the public is all we can try to do.

  • Steelmagnolia
    5 years ago

    This is the best explanation I have ever heard anyone give and it is right on the money. I am 64 years old and have had Migraines all my life. The facts you have posted are what I have tried, tactfully, to tell people for 50 years. It IS a fact they are neurological, it IS a fact they are genetic/hereditary, it IS a fact that there are times you can’t speak correctly and people look at you very strange when it happens. Every fact you have written has happened to me at one time or another over the course of my lifetime. I get a little perturbed at the whiners who think they are the only people to ever have a headache. I get upset when I hear a person refer to a “headache” as a Migraine when they very obviously are capable of driving themselves home, staying by themselves, working, shopping, carrying on with everyday activities, etc. and all while still looking normal. I’m sorry but when I have a Migraine it is written all over my face, in my eyes and in my speech. Over my lifetime I have tried everything known to man/woman and have tried everything anyone has told me about. My mother told me my first one was as an infant of about 6 weeks old. I wound up in the ER and the doctor had no idea what was wrong with me. It took them 2 years to be able to diagnose Migraine after I was old enough to talk to them and tell them what was happening to me. It took another 45+ years to find something that would work for relief. I have been having them more often lately because of several factors, but now I know how to manage them and I don’t panic anymore when I know one is coming. Thank you for taking the time to write these facts and post them.

  • CATRYNA
    5 years ago

    This is one of the most excellent articles I have read describing migraine and it’s effects. I have suffered from Migraines since I was 4 years old or for 60 years. I have tried Excedrin Migraine only to suffer a convulsion with resulting double vision. I don’t recommend it. Over the years I have made many dietary changes which has resulted in less and less problems with migraines. For the most part the only things that set me off, now, are weather changes or those damnable Santa Anas that we have more and more often, here in SOCAL. I would highly recommend to anyone that they get off grains, commercial dairy, tomato sauces, beer, wine, cigarettes and deli meats. Those are the big ones that often bring on a migraine. And, stay detoxified.

  • Paulajane
    5 years ago

    great article. For 25 years I had migraines with all stages including a 6 week migraine and a few hospitalizations. The pain was as you described. My migraines started around menopause and even with preventives I had the pain 3-4 times a week including all stages. Now they are not as much in my head as in my whole body. Zomig helps, but I am almost in a constant condition of post or prodromal symptoms. Most doctors don’t have a clue how this all can affect your digestive system and every part of your body. For years the doctors treated my neck pain as if it caused the migraines and I could never get them to understand that the neck pain was a result.

    I printed this off and appreciate this particular article.

  • Val Frost and Bubbles
    5 years ago

    I have just shared this incredible article on my FB page with my own introduction. Knowledge by NON-sufferers helps them appreciate what we go through and hopefully adds to our invisible support team to get us through it each day. Val Frost and “BUBBLES”, my Newfoundland Service Dog, who handles Migraine, Stroke, Disorientation, Vertigo and Vision Loss

  • Heather Benton
    5 years ago

    They have Service Dogs for MIGRAINE SUFFERS! Seriously interesting! 🙂

  • Sarah
    5 years ago

    I’ve just shared this with my daughter that email. I’ve never heard of migraine hangovers before. My migraine is at level 6 today, with some nausea and neck pain, and low grade phonophobia. X

  • Jan Piller
    5 years ago

    Meditation has been so helpful in managing my migraine pain – it’s what’s allowed me to keep working full time – it helps in maintaining my focus even through the worst pain and nausea. I highly recommend practicing it – it took a lot of commitment the first couple of years but I’m so glad I did it.

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