Skip to Accessibility Tools Skip to Content Skip to Footer

Explaining Your Migraine

Because migraine symptoms are often not outwardly visible, it becomes difficult for those around you to understand what you are experiencing when you have a migraine. We asked our Facebook community how they explain migraines to friends, family, and colleagues, and what has and hasn’t worked. Here is what several of our community members had to say:

It’s not possible for others to understand

  • I have completely given up on explaining my migraine
  • I’ve stopped explaining, doesn’t matter
  • I gave up trying to explain it to anyone….people who don’t have migraines just don’t get it
  • I no longer bother
  • You can’t, they don’t understand
  • I don’t try to explain anymore. Those that matter try to understand, those who don’t aren’t worth my time
  • I don’t even try to explain them anymore. It’s too painful and I no longer have the energy to deal with the migraine pain and the pain of explaining


It’s like a hangover

  • It’s like a bad hangover without drinking the alcohol
  • It’s like the worst hangover but without drinking
  • Imagine waking up from the mother of all frat parties and then getting run over by a truck…

It feels like…..

  • It feels like a consistent brain freeze
  • My migraine is like having an extra set of testicles at the back of my head and someone is banging them with a heavy hammer one by one
  • Put your head in a vise and squeeze it until you can’t stand the pain. Then, pour boiling water on your scalp, and gag yourself with your finger until you vomit. That’s about HALF as bad as my migraines
  • A cross between a stroke & MS
  • Someone stabbing me in my temple repeatedly…. or like hammering me in the head, but also there is that awful pain running from my temple curving around my ear and down the back of my neck
  • Sometimes feels like someone with a chisel trying to open my skull; sometimes feels like a hammer, or something trying to get out
  • It’s like having a fully loaded semi-truck park on your head for three days
  • I tell them I’d rather have my wisdom teeth out again

How would you explain your migraines? Please post in the comments!


  • Ruth
    2 years ago

    I tell people to make a fist.
    Now squeeze as tight as you can.
    Now hold that for the next 40 years.

    THAT’S my head.

  • 1n1no54
    5 years ago

    I think mine feel like consistent brain freeze,too. As well as my heart trying to pump my blood out through my temple, while I want to stab myself there to relieve the pain (like letting the pressure out). And mine aren’t nearly as bad as a lot of people’s. I tend to tell other people (mainly colleagues) I want to stab myself in the head, have a head transplant, and sorry, but no, your painkillers won’t work for me.

  • debwilton
    5 years ago

    My husband says trying to explain is like pissing in the wind!

  • Rosiebelle
    5 years ago

    It’s like an ice pick stabbed through your neck into your temple. With the pain comes waves of loss of vision, numbness and nausea. Sometimes it’s hard to speak. When I try to explain coworkers and family get that “pained” look like they don’t believe me!!

  • Ruth
    5 years ago

    Make a fist with your hand and squeeze it as tight as you can. Now hold that for 35 years.

    That’s what I feel like.

  • manahime1969
    6 years ago

    For me the best way to describe it is like someone is in my head with a ball pin hammer hammering away on all sides trying to get out. At the same time some on else is force feeding me very old expired milk and blasting music to loudly and dilating my eyes on purpose. They usually give me funny looks but, in the end the just leave me a lone and stop asking.

  • Dee
    6 years ago

    I don’t explain it but keep it all to myself. Another nasty comment has ticked me off today by somebody who MUST know about my migraines because they are a close family member. I wish they don’t need to know about it because it would help keep my self-esteem in tact. Apparently I am too disabled to take on a “stressful” job because it will trigger more migraines. “Do something relaxing for a living” is what I was advised. Hello!! There are various triggers to migraine, not just stress (as we all know). How ignorant is all I could think and then I proceeded to defend myself. My husband keeps telling me not to defend myself and to just let the ignorance fall off my back but I cant seem to do that. I want people to know that this is not going to stop me from doing what I want to do with my life. I refuse to let it take over me and comments like that are DIS-empowering. Sorry all, needed to vent in a safe place. Thank you for listening.

  • Karen Suitor
    6 years ago

    No two of my migraines feel quite the same. The sensations tend to constantly morph into new ones – red hot poker being jammed into my eye & being twisted, hammer pounding on my head for days, teeth chattering while my body feels on fire & breaks out in sweats, etc. I broke my arm 4 weeks ago. My most recent uncontrollable migraine made me realize how similar the pain & sensations right at the time I broke my arm were to this migraine – intense throbbing pain, constant nausea & coming close to vomiting every time I moved, feeling like I might pass out. Comparing the broken bone to migraine was something my husband could relate to. He can also relate to imagining his worst ever hangover, & then imagining it 5 times more intense.

  • Oildoc
    6 years ago

    I told my Doctor when I was young that my head felt like someone was using a jackhammer on my head. He didn’t understand me! I have tried to use other terms but it is always harder to explain to someone who has never had one. Even my wife who suffers normal tension HAs but not migraines has a tough time with me laying in a darkened room with an ice bag on my head. I live like a bleeding mushroom sometimes and I don’t have a way out of this dang pain. Meds do not work. I’m a Dr of Eng. with a minor in medicine and can’t do anything but breakout in tears sometimes.

  • lara
    6 years ago

    I had a friend who never gets migraines but once had a spinal tap done incorrectly. From what I saw, he had the signs and symptoms of a pretty bad migraine for almost a week before I took him back to the ER. That might be a good description too but it’s so obscure that I doubt many people could relate.

    On the plus side, he never, ever underestimated the severity of my migraines again.

  • lara
    6 years ago

    people who do not get migraines will never understand. Not ever. It’s an entire process from beginning to end and it can take several days because it’s the before-during-after.

    To everyone who asks “didn’t she/he take anything” that’s like asking a car crash victim if they took an aspirin. Just shut up and go away. Thank you. You have lost the right to talk to me.

  • Britiny colvin-kazee
    6 years ago

    I have a four year old daughter, and my migraines went chronic two and a half years ago. I’d happily take the pain of childbirth over the pain and symptoms of a migraine any day.

  • trentalope
    6 years ago

    I tore my knee ligaments to pieces on a great day and the pain couldn’t even touch what my head feels like on an, “ok” day. I didn’t even seek help for it until days after because I am so used to having such head pain. Crazy, huh! -Trent

  • lara
    6 years ago

    I had cat bites on my hands and arms recently (long story) and the bites tore through two fingers and ligaments. A total of 12 cat bites actually. I joked with the ER that I didn’t need narcotics because, well, I didn’t. The pain wasn’t even remotely close to a migraine. They sent me home with them anyway.

    I had to go back to the ER two more times because the bites were infected and tracked up the arm. I was admitted because of the ligaments and because the swelling in the fingers wasn’t going down. Still – not as painful as a migraine. Spent three days in the hospital and still not as painful as a migraine and I couldn’t move my fingers.

    Got a migraine in the hospital though. Took the triptan + morphine for that.

    They couldn’t understand why I wasn’t asking for morphine for just my hands and I was like… I get migraines and this? This is nothing.

    I don’t get the stereotype that migraine patients are crybabies because obviously the people who came up with have never, ever had a migraine or, you know, met a migraine patient.

  • Stacey
    6 years ago

    I’ve suffered from migraines since I was 14 (I’m now 49). I have a number of family members who also go through this torture, so explaining the headaches hasn’t really been an issue. They understand and we support each other. I’ve been fortunate at work as well. My supervisor has fibromyalgia, and can relate to severe debilitating pain that can knock a person down, sometimes for several days at a time. The support and empathy doesn’t make the pain go away, but leaves me free to take the time I need to rest and fully recover before returning to work and my usual activities. I wish my situation was the norm for everyone.

  • tonim26
    6 years ago

    I find it hard to explain my chronic migraine to even those who have migraine. When I am down and out for days and have tried my triptans for days, started prednisone and am in need of rescue meds, I often hear at work… “didn’t she take anything? Take a maxalt and it goes away.” I have probably taken 2 different triptans a few different times at that point and only laying down in the dark for a couple of days and some rescue meds might get me back to the living. The thing that really sucks about explaining it at work, is that I am a nurse in a clinic. Some coworkers are great, others not (like I said, a few have migraines).

  • BethBlue
    6 years ago

    All of these symptoms and descriptions are helpful, but I believe it’s important to mention the toll that migraines take on the rest of one’s body. I feel drained after years of this disease — like I’ve been run over by a car that decided to back up and repeat the process again and again. I changed my entire diet; I’m afraid to eat just about everything lest it become a “trigger;” I’m tremendously noise and smell sensitive; and my family is exhausted with me. I also want — and need — to go back to work, but I don’t even know how to pick up the pieces. How do I describe THAT to my friends and family??? They just think I’m weird and pampered.

  • ChristieS
    6 years ago

    It’s like a little troll inside my head that is bracing his back against my brain, and his feet pushing with all his might against the back of my eyes. It makes my eyes feel like they are going to pop out.

  • Lori Oberhofer
    6 years ago

    I describe the pain level to people as an “icecream brain freeze that lasts for 2 days and 2 nights if not stopped by meds”. And the meds make me tired, foggy, and a bit nauseous at times so not perfect solution. The brain freeze description makes people cringe as many at one time or another have experienced that. And in my case, the pain feels like its coming from the same nerve set.

  • Poll