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Rage, rage against the…everything: anger as a symptom, side effect of migraine

This disease is a slippery little one—as soon as you think you have your patterns nailed down and know just what to expect, something changes. Your aura gets more intense. Your triptan stops working (or, as in my case, starts triggering side effects so mind-numbing you have to switch prescriptions). Your vision is suddenly staggering hours before the migraine begins, making you wonder what in the world is happening to you.

One not-so-welcome migraine symptom has been rearing its very ugly head with more frequency for me: anger and irritability.

Rather than talk about this symptom from a general perspective (my friend Diana Lee does that expertly in this February 2012 blog post—a must-read), I’ll talk a minute about how this unruly beast has surprised me and those close to me a time or two in recent months.

I guess it’s been awhile now that I’ve angered more quickly than usual. I feel the way I did as a teenager, knowing the situation did not merit my frustration and knowing that any inherent annoyances in the situation paled in comparison to my unexpected rage. “What is wrong with me?” I thought, apologizing to an employee or my boyfriend after snapping or, more rarely, blowing up completely. It took me a good long time to note a pattern: these periods of rage came shortly before my now-frequent migraine attacks settled in.

Duh.

Once you’ve snapped at someone, it’s hard to say, “Um, I think maybe I’m getting a migraine and that’s why I yelled at you.” It’s difficult to know for sure what’s going on with your unexpected irritability, and unfortunately it takes a full-blown migraine attack for you to realize that this is indeed what’s happening, and by then you might have hurt someone’s feelings.

Do you feel angry and irritable at any point during your migraine episodes? How do you cope?

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.

Comments

  • Lawgirl
    3 years ago

    Am I the only one who gets irritable and/or angry in the migraine hangover phase (after the migraine occurs)?

  • Tmeschmidt
    3 years ago

    Hi Lawgirl, you are not. I have woke up with a migraine every morning this week and I can take medication immediately and the pain goes away. However I am extremely angry this, for no reason. I feel like there is a small raging person in my body. I am easily annoyed and frustrated. My forgetfulness also is an all time high this week. I had this problem a couple years ago for almost a year. It was the first time I experience these symptoms. However it ceased to exist for about two years until this week.

  • Brian in TN
    5 years ago

    I have come to recognize my rages as a separate symptom of my migraines. It became obvious when the most minor frustration would trigger an irrational response where it would take all my control to keep me from screaming / kicking at pets, etc. luckily my commute is only 3 miles or I’m sure road rage would result. On my worst days I just have to get out on the factory floor and walk, as exercise seems to be the only help. I’m actually relieved when the pain comes as that is a signal that the rage should start fading away. Being in maintenance helps since the people stressing me contact me via radio allowing me to vent away from operators, some of whom are anxious to get their feelings hurt.

  • Cindy McMillan
    6 years ago

    Thank you so very much for this article. I almost thought I was the only one. My fiance has actually sent me to my room to cool down a time or two when this happens. My poor kids are usually the ones to suffer when this happens.

  • MigrainesAlwaysHaveOne
    6 years ago

    Thank you for this article. I think it is natural for us to be angry suffering with this disease. It is easy to feel irritable when you are in the throes, or getting over a bad one, or dealing with side effects of medication. I feel a rage inside due to a sense of injustice somehow – like why did this happen to me!! And why it is so hard to find a doctor to treat you properly, and why others are so ignorant, not realizing that a stupid action on their part can send you into a bout of interolable pain (such as leaving a bright light on like the one lady said). I think a lot of it is due to the fact that we just don’t look sick. We feel the same pain as somebody with their leg cut off or a cancer patient, but yet we are treated like we are scramming – especially if you are on disability for this disease. I never tell anyone as I do not want to suffer that judgement – I tell them I have a neurogical disease and leave it at that.

  • Les
    6 years ago

    Thank you for putting into words your experiences. I too have suffered through fits-of-anger related to my migraines. I’m glad I am not the only one.

    When I am at work and sense an attack brewing, I post up signs by my desk which read “The Migraine Zone”. This alerts my colleagues to know I am hyper-sensitive to light and sound.

    My boss is also aware that my mood changes pretty drastically when I am in pain. About two years after I first started working in customer service, I was diagnosed with migraine. Back then I had no idea how it affected my moods, and often my anger was passed onto my customers. Fortunately I’ve had past managers who came to understand my medical situation, and helped me to side-step problems.

  • thegoodsied
    6 years ago

    Do I get angry with migraine pain? damn tootin’! Do I always know it? No!
    I am a chronic migraine sufferer but i am also diagnosed with fibromyalgia and am in a near constant state of pain and tension. While I have tried many things to cope and relax there are times that I blow and while in the middle of an all out dramatic bitch session I will realise just how irrational I am becomming I have already sprung a leak and caused irrepairable damage. Many times this is pre-migraine or just at the begining of the head pain but I may already be several hours into the digestive / abdominal migraine symptoms, or ust be purely exhausted. I honestly no longer know how to handle this any longer.

  • gailg
    6 years ago

    I started grumping at my 2 kids (12 and 6) just yesterday after being really happy just before that. It took me all of 2 minutes to realize what a shift I just made in mood and I knew it was a migraine. And I told my kids right then and there something likek – “you know, I’m getting grumpy because I’m getting a migraine. I’m going to go fix that.” It’s a common thing for me to become a grumpy bear just before the pain starts. Sometimes I have to send myself to my room! I immediately took my naratriptan and survived the night less of a bear. (We also had stormy weather that really kicked in a couple hours after this – another trigger for my migranes.)

  • Becky Newell
    6 years ago

    Thank goodness – I have searched the web and come up with nothing on my awful mood swings/ rage several days before the pain of a migraine finally comes. It has been a recent change in my symptoms and has only happened since I began getting treatment for my chronic migraine – I take amiltriptyline ( for the migraine not depression).
    The sort of mood swing is completely different to anything I’ve had before. I am fairly good at self awareness and meditation etc ( always room for improvement though!) so feeling deeply , hopelessly depressed quickly followed by an irritability that is completely irrational and feels like its out of control – all my filters seem to disappear! Recognising it was a symptom not ‘me’ was really helpful but I looked on the net to see how other people step away from their rage – what techniques help – but couldn’t even find info on it being a symptom.
    It is not related to people being thoughtless – leaving bright lights on etc and although I’m not delighted I’m on track for a mighty migraine it isn’t an anger related to that, it is an irrational sensitivity to everything!
    It’s helpful to read everyone’s similar experience. I am going to call a family meeting ( something we do semi regularly) to discuss how my family can flag up when I begin to snap – they often get the flack before I even realise! The only thing I can think of is that I take myself away from everyone until the feelings passed again and I’m back onto the next symptom!
    Now I’m thinking though for the 7 years I was struggling big time under a wrong diagnosis I felt furious at the injustice and lack of support but that was entirely rational. This irrational rage has only begun since I started on the meds – mm note to self must ask doc if it could be related.
    Anyway thank you! And any bright ideas of diffusion would be gratefully received by myself and my lovely little family.

  • Saundra
    6 years ago

    ‘an irrational sensitivity to everything!’ is the perfect way to describe it.
    I’m surprised you didn’t find any info on it being a sypmtom anywhere on the net. My husband found it listed as a symptom somewhere when we were researching 2 or 3 years ago -in fact, he pointed it out to me that I do it, though it is not commonly listed.

  • carolyn20
    6 years ago

    Oh yes, I have had pure rage. It seems like I have asked my family hundreds of times to keep the lights dim (all the lights in my house are on dimmers)and if I walk into a room and all the lights are on full strength~BAM. Pain straight to they eyeballs, then pure rage. The rage is there even when I’m not in the throes of a migraine because it could send me into one. Same goes for footsteps. I feel sorry for my family, they can’t even walk around the house without me complaining about the footsteps, but I don’t think they truly understand how much pain it causes me. I have been at a dinner party, the hosts love jazz music, and they turned on some jazz tunes with a bunch of horns and screechy notes and I politely asked if they would change the music because the jazz would send me straight into a migraine. They looked at me like I was insane and rude. Rage. At relative’s houses, I have to go around and turn lights off or down and I ask permission most of the time. This happens over and over, they act surprised every time and like I am a rude guest for controlling the lighting. It’s either that or I have to leave. Then later, I’ll turn around and all the lights are on again. I feel like nobody cares, nobody understands. I started wearing my superdark sunglasses indoors. It feels like nobody cares.

  • Diane Minton
    6 years ago

    This rings true with me, I have had bipolar 1 and bipolar migraines for a long time, seroquel seems to be keeping them away for the time being anyway and the rage is definitive, something I have had. I have also had paranoia after the migraines and anxiety attacks, winter weather seems to be better for me….Good luck to all sufferers, its a living hell. Vistaril does help allot when I can tell one might be coming on and I tried other meds from dr before getting disability for these horrible fluresent light demons!

  • terri
    6 years ago

    Wow, Migraine dot com brings me another “i’m not the only one” experience. There’s a connection for me, that’s for sure. If there’s an aura, and I’m particularly stressed/anxious/depressed, I’ve noticed more and more that the headache will be preceded by a spell of rage. Anything and everything will set me off. The longer the headache lasts (if I try to save a Triptan), the longer the rage. I have a no-medical-degree goofy theory. Both depression and migraines are sometimes treated with SSRIs, so it all fits together from that perspective. There’s probably a link somewhere, because there’s an interaction between Triptans and SSRIs that can cause Serotonin Syndrome. Also, digestion often shuts down with a migraine, and more serotonin is normally present in the digestive tract than in the brain. Now, all I have to do is figure out which came first, the serotonin depletion or the headache.

  • Garangwyn
    6 years ago

    Wow…it would have been helpful to know I wasn’t alone during the year and a half I tried to work with my chronic migraines, before I went out on disability. Because my migraines lasted anywhere from 1 to 3 or 4 days…or the last straw, 5 days (because I had to try to work through them, being out of leave time and already being docked pay for missing work)…and MAYBE going a day or two in between, which was barely enough to try to recover from the last one before the next began, I was in a state of constant rage, which I tried to control, but which I levied against my employers because they were the only ones who could have done something to alleviate some of my pain at that point — and they refused to accommodate me. A migraine which, now that I am home may register at a 3 to 5 on the pain scale was a 7 or 8 at work…having to work in a bright, noisy, busy environment in which YOU are the go-to person that has to deal with everyone that calls or walks in the door will make anyone crazy.

    I am grateful, however, for the experience that living with chronic pain has given me. Severe chronic pain can change a person into someone they themselves don’t even recognize. Even my best friend at work pulled away from me to avoid the anger I often offloaded on her (even though it was not directed at her). I saw it happening but I was helpless to do anything about it, no matter how hard I tried to find a different perspective…I was completely unable to rise above the anger that was always with me. I am not typically an angry person and can find the positive in almost any situation. I truly didn’t know what was wrong with me.

    My migraines are ten times better now…but I am still on disability after 6 months. If I tried to go back to work in any kind of noisy or bright (or both!) environment, I’d be right back where I was. I know that most people don’t understand that and think I am working the “system”…a system which will not allow me to work for pay when I don’t have a migraine, because you have to be either 100 percent disabled, or not at all.

    The system is broken, and that makes me angry…but it is not the rage I felt when I was working with migraines. I no longer feel the kind of rage I felt when I was trying to function in the work environment, and I feel for those people who currently do. Whether the migraines are so intense that the pain alone causes the rage, or whether the need to continue to function through them causes the rage, there must be another way to manage the situation so that we can live normal, functioning lives.

  • Teszla
    6 years ago

    This, this is ME!
    I work in a high stress job, bright bright BRIGHT fluorescent lights, noisy environment, supervisor position, combative and argumentative people… and I don’t know myself any more. My anger levels are so high sometimes I just want to cry.
    NOW it all makes sense…. Thank you so much for helping me to see what is going on… I only wish I could change it. I, too, have been contemplating a job change because of the migraines/chronic headaches, now I have even more reason with the rage.

  • Leigh
    6 years ago

    I hit the post button prematurely… anyway, I can empathize totally. You don’t know who you are some days. Some days I just can’t go into work because the rage is out of control. Some days I need medication that reduces that reduces the rage. Some days I have to apologize to coworkers in advance and advise them to let me know when I’m behaving badly. I try when I can to breathe and turn to my “comfort image” for a minute or two, as my relaxation therapist has advised me. All too often I wish I could take disability but must rely on FMLA and short paychecks since I’m the family breadwinner. I have wanted to change jobs to something less stressful but don’t think I can manage the stress of changing jobs. I do have Americans With Disabilities Act accommodations and am adapting them to better suit my changing migraines and changing job requirements. But there is nothing I can put in ADA accommodations about rage.

  • Leigh
    6 years ago

    Very well articulated – bravo. As someone whose chronic migraines sometimes occur daily

  • 100dollarheadache
    6 years ago

    there is definitely anger related to migraine, during and post migraine. my migraine are so intense, i welcome being knocked out for medication. after vomiting and suffering head pain that is unbearable being unconscious is a welcome state. i have lost my temper with migraine. patience, as well as light and sound sensitivity can make you blow a gasket. frustration also plays a part. knowing you are down for the count for the next 24 to 48 hours makes it worse. add in having migraines 5 to 7 times a month can be debilitating. i lose 1/2 the month with migraine and it use to be worse. there was a time when i suffered 10 to 12 migraines a month. this could drive anyone to anger. add in acquaintances and family that do not understand their severity of pain from migraine, dehydration and vomiting. the frustration turns to anger. short fuse at times leads to explosion. i have reduced my migraines by recognizing my triggers, over exertion, bright sun or lights, not eating properly, not drinking enough water, sleep apnea(untreated),artificial sweetener,nitrates and under sleeping. even with addressing these triggers i lose 1/2 the month. i believe concussions have also played a part in my migraines. i have had several over the course of my life. they started back in 2002 with a concussion and have continued ever since. there are days when i also get regular headaches. i always get the aura associated with the onset of migraine. the aura gives me a very short window to get my medication in my system asap. seconds can make the difference of being sick for hours or days. i sympathize with any one out there who suffers from this. even 1 migraine a month is bad never mind several. what works quickest for me is a triptan needle, sumerval , also imitrex nasal and zoomig sublinqual tablet. unfortunately in cold weather the needle and nasl liquids can freeze in cold temps. i use them most at home but everywhere i go i carry the zoomig, i am dead without it……..the sumerval inject able needles are 100.00 dollars each, thus my user name > 100dollarheadache

  • DollyJean
    6 years ago

    Very interesting. In my case, I wouldn’t necessarily call it a symptom of or side effect of my migraines. Personally, I feel that, since we all know we can sense them coming, it’s a mood changer for me. The fear and anxiety of knowing what’s to come cause my mood to take a nose-dive….kind of like the anxiety one feels knowing they have to make a speech, knowing the pain I’m about to encounter really pisses me off.

  • mjsymonds
    6 years ago

    I’m sure my husband and daughter can confirm the truth of this for me! Sadly, I’m not always aware of it when it is happening– my anger can seem completely justified to me at the time. It’s only later that perspective returns and I can see how out of proportion my response has been to something they’ve said or done. Fortunately it doesn’t happen to me with the onset of every migraine, but as you note, it is amazing how “slippery” migraine can be–how many different variables, emotions, physical symptoms, can come into play through the course of a single attack and how one’s migraines can change in character through time. It does leave one feeling like you can never be entirely on top of it.

    When I was younger, I used to say my migraines “kept me honest” in the sense that my true emotions would come out unfiltered during an attack, but now, after decades of migraine I’m thinking, “OK, OK, enough already! I don’t need to be tortured anymore! I’ve already told you everything I know!” Sigh.

  • body
    6 years ago

    Whoops Annette, I made a mistake. Meant to say worry is the emotion associated with our spleen-pancreas stomach network. If energy is depleted from this network one of the things that can bother us as migraineurs is a collection of mucous in our sinuses. I still have a problem with that one. Fear is the emotion connected to our kidney-bladder network and if prolonged can affect our adrenal hormones.

  • body
    6 years ago

    Interesting! In Eastern medicine the liver-gall bladder is the primary believed to be responsible for migraine headaches. Anger is the emotion associated with this network system. Self-awareness comes with recognizing the emotion. Healing comes with learning to express anger in a safe, positive and healthy way.

  • body
    6 years ago

    Hi Annette. I suffered from unexpressed anger as well. Had no idea it contributed to my migraines attacks. I hate confrontation so I would just hold the emotion in and lie awake at night and worry about the situation. Now that I have learned to recognize the emotion and express it in a healthy way, for example tell someone they have upset me, it is like a weight off my shoulders and has helped decrease my migraine attacks significantly. In Eastern medicine, the kidney-bladder organ network system can also be affected by those of us with a long history of chronic migraine disease. Worry is the emotion associated with that organ system and because the kidney-bladder system is thought to be the controller of the adrenal glands, prolonged depletion of energy can deplete our stress hormones and aggravate our migraine attacks.

  • annette
    6 years ago

    I recently found notes from Kineosology sessions regarding my migraines and the big message in them was that the migraines stemmed from my un-expressed anger. The anger was at my husband, life circumstances and also on a very deep level, anger at being born a woman, which is relevant as they started as menstrual migraines. They have increased in frequency as I journey into menopause. An interesting journey, not only on a physical level!

  • casrak
    6 years ago

    I too have noticed that I have a shorter fuse. I never thought that it could be linked to Migraines as I have been diagnosed with PTSD (linked to my military service). My poor wife gets the brunt of it as I snap on a dime. I take several meds for my PTSD and my migraines.

  • arden
    6 years ago

    Hey, marlenerossman, your reply made me laugh all over. Not to take lightly your predicament, but your words were just so hilarious. Because this migraine junk is so amazingly complicated and hugely annoying for all of us, its great to be able to see the funny side of it. I’m still trying to figure out which way the arrow of cause goes: do we cause the migraine or does the migraine cause us. Maybe in the next life it will all become clear and we’ll see what a blessing they were. How is that for a brilliant suggestion? Har.

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