What is a Migraine Prodrome?

Prodrome is only one of the stages of a Migraine attack. It is the first part of an attack when the ‘normal’ equilibrium of the central nervous system has been disrupted. It occurs in about 80% of Migraine patients and usually lasts from between 24 – 48 hrs.

Not all Migraineurs will experience prodrome. Those that do may not experience this stage with every Migraine attack. When a prodrome occurs, the patient may begin to feel the ‘premonition’ that something is not right. Sometimes it is the family and friends of the Migraineur that notice the symptoms of prodrome first. The Migraineur may actually be unaware that symptoms have begun.

Some symptoms of prodrome may include:

  • Appetite changes (which may include cravings)
  • Cognition and concentration difficulties
  • Cold extremities
  • Diarrhea or other bowel changes
  • Excitement or irritability
  • Fatigue
  • Frequent urination
  • Memory changes
  • Weakness
  • Yawning, stretching


If a patient notices Prodrome, they may be able to take measures that abort the attack before it goes further. Unfortunately, many choose to take a wait-and-see approach however, as prodrome may not always result in a full blown Migraine attack. This is often a mistake, because the sooner the patient is able to take their Migraine abortive medication, the more likely the attack will be shorter and less painful or debilitating.

Migraineurs who experience the symptoms of prodrome may be mildly, moderately or even severely disabled by them – much more than was once thought.

Have you experienced prodrome symptoms that are different from those listed here? I hope you’ll share them with us!

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

View Comments (46)
  • vmagowan01
    4 months ago

    Hi. My migraines which I have had since about age of 11 (I’m now 29) have changed over the years. I have never had any obvious prodrome symptoms except for tiredness until the aura itself has arrived until now. Now in the days and even maybe a week or 2 before the attack i am losing balance, forgetting words, unable to finish sentences, forgetting things, tingly fingers and heart palpitations. They are coming more frequently too. The Anxiety and fear of the next one is dreadful. It is some comfort to see others talking about the same symptoms as I was starting to think something is seriously wrong with me. Has anyone managed to take medication at the prodrome stage and prevent the attack??

  • marg221
    1 year ago

    My worst prodrome is waking up at five in the morning with a pulsing visual aura and feeling all around my face with mild or severe nausea. I keep soft ginger chews by my bed and suck on one of those. If nausea is mild, I fall back asleep and can wake up just fine. If severe I have to take a triptan shot. If I start vomiting it could cycle for 4 to 12 hours. My mildest prodrome is just a feeling I should not drink white wine at a restaurant as I WILL get a headache, while at other times I might join in. Because my headaches are mostly under control with preventative meds, I have to think about the other items on the list, but 4 or 5 of them would apply I am sure.

  • thoroughbred31
    2 years ago

    Yawning and eye tearing is always a warning for me that a migraine is coming. It’s uncontrollable. Coping methods for me are washing my makeup off and just taking my contacts out.

  • SunupShutterbug
    4 years ago

    I get so fatigued that even eating is too much of a chore. Today I ate an apple because cooking was out of the question. I tend to get very forgetful as well, misplacing things regularly. My feet get freezing cold too-uncomfortably cold. Migraines are not for sissies…

  • Jessica
    4 years ago

    I get all of the above symptoms. Sometimes I can’t remember my words, how to spell or I stutter (forgetting what word I want to use). Every once in a while I get the taste of Maxalt in my mouth and then I know that I’m going to get a migraine.

  • maribeth121
    6 years ago

    So glad to know it’s not all in my head (although it REALLY is – ha ha!!). Woke up this morning with the all-too familiar feeling that Dr. Dread’s on his way. Started with feeling something’s not right. Now, walking into objects. This usually will progress to dizziness so severe I can’t get out of bed. This can last anywhere from a few days to two weeks (once). Due to having complicated migraines, I can’t take Imitrex, Relpax, etc. But maybe this won’t be that bad because I’m still vertical!!

  • thoroughbred31
    2 years ago

    I’m unable to take triptans as well. Feel your pain.

  • Deborah Larson
    6 years ago

    I get most of the listed prodrome symptoms. I thought I was imagining a connection.

    I also have blurred vision and kind of an “vacant” sensation – like I’m not really there. My neck aches and gets stiff.

    Since I can take Imitrex and it usually stops the headache (or makes it managable) I feel fortunate to be able to work full time with chronic migraines, but sometimes the fatigue and loss of concentration makes it very difficult to complete things.

  • Nancy Harris Bonk moderator
    6 years ago

    Hi Deborah,

    Isn’t it good to know “it’s not all in your head” as we are sometimes lead to believe? My prodrome symptoms can often include excessive urination and yawning and becoming extremely irritable. No one ever told me I might experience these things – I learned them when I went to an AHS scientific conference!

  • celestialgold
    7 years ago

    I have a few of these that I’m just starting to recognize… Tremors (very noticeably in my hands), confusion, lack of vocabulary, high pitched buzzing in my “ears” (try blocking out a sound that comes from within your own head), and agitation ( I can’t sit down (I run around cleaning or straightening up).

  • Cathi Wilkinson
    7 years ago

    I hear a swooshing sound in my left ear, my left eye also droops a little. My headaches are all on the left side of my head. I also smell things more strongly, can’t use cleaners I normally do. Haven’t figured out all food triggers yet, but I know there are some. Still trying to put all the symptoms together. I do also get facial numbness around mouth, and I have a tired look!

  • Christy Belleau
    7 years ago

    Tingling scalp/skul aometimes with sort of a chill, usually starts at jaw/ear level and sort of washes up to the top of my head. Not always followed by ocular migraine, but when it is it usually presents on the side opposite the tingling which is usually about 24 hours before the ocular migraine.

  • Vanita Suzanne
    7 years ago

    24-48 hrs before my migraines hit, I feel extremely tired, like I have not slept all night or feel like I am getting sick. If I try to exercise during this time period, I feel like I have the flu. I literally need to take 2-3 naps during the day. I also crave very specific food items, which vary each time, but they are so specific that if I cannot find the actual brand I would rather eat nothing at all. I get extremely irritable. Things that normally wouldn’t bother me very much suddenly bother me beyond proportion. Sometimes, I get really cold despite what the weather is like. And somehow, while all this is going on, there’s an inability to recognize it as the prodrome, so that it is only once I get the migraine that all the other previous things make sense in retrospect.

  • Zach Young
    7 years ago

    its very comforting knowing that I’m not the only one out there that feels this way…. I thought I was just crazy.. and loosing my mind.

  • Barbara Matas-Zeltner
    7 years ago

    My daughter has chronic headache.I’ve observed the yawning before the onset of migraine. Another prodroma is smelling things that are not there.As a rule, the migraine is there next morning…

  • Karen Farmer
    7 years ago

    I’d never noticed it, but my mother pointed out something of a pattern: sometimes when I would be on the phone in the morning with my mother she would notice that I would talk even faster than normal. Later in the day or night a migraine would come on. Hmmm….

  • Rose Lea Gidley
    7 years ago

    You just listing things I have or do frequently. I’m only 25. Are my migraines going to get worse the older I get?

  • Brett Sutherlin
    7 years ago

    24-48 hours before the visual aura begins, my face appears washed out and I get tingling in my hands and fingers. I also noticed that some simple motor movements like picking up a toothbrush with my hands becomes clumsy, so I drop things frequently.

  • Karen Farmer
    7 years ago

    Unfortunately for me I get very similar symptoms but they only present about 20-30 minutes before the pain begins.

  • Ann Poulter
    7 years ago

    Recently I have been smelling amonia even though don’t have any in the house. After being rejected for an MRI I discovered through my “rejection letter” from the insurance that some peple experience smells. It is sooo disgusting that it is almost painful.

  • Kelly Jiggles Tedder
    8 years ago

    omg I didn’t know that there was a name for this, one that I get that is not listed is a strange one, I have noticed that the bottom of my right hand hair line can go greasy about 24 hrs before I get one, I also experience a lot of the other ones, the one I seem to be getting a lot is cravings x.

  • Sam Barnett-Cormack
    8 years ago

    I’m a migraineur, among other things, and I also have a range of as-yet unexplained symptoms. A junior neuro tied them together as status migraine, which made sense to me, but his boss overruled him. Reading this, some of them (not all, only the intermittent ones) could be fairly frequent prodrome, albeit usually without a full attack happening. The ones that it makes sense for are moderate cognitive disfunction, loss of coordination, fatigue, and memory oddness (though some of the latter could be my narcolepsy). It’s interesting. Not much point mentioning it to my neuro, though, as he seems to believe that nothing ever presents in non-typical ways…

  • Karen Farmer
    7 years ago

    You need to find a different neurologist – one who will listen to you. If they don’t listen they can’t treat you the way you need. Migraines and prodromes are not one-size fits all. Years ago, some of my signs that an attack was coming on were considered unusual. Now they are recognized as one of the range of possible symptoms. I’ve even heard of some people who have what they call “silent migraines” where they will get the visual aura, but no headache pain will follow.

  • Janis M LaFreniere
    8 years ago

    OMG, this describes exactly what I was going through yesterday! I was acting out trying to find the word – people think I’m nuts!

  • Paul Marynissen
    8 years ago

    I get a metallic taste and the right side of my face drops like Bells Palsy. Concentrating on a task becomes a Herculean effort and as the pain begins my balance and coordination deteriorates.

  • Janis M LaFreniere
    8 years ago

    Amanda Tarlau where do you get that?

  • Amanda Tarlau
    8 years ago

    Maybe the homeopathic remedy Apis – made from bee stings -would help..

  • Paul Marynissen
    8 years ago

    I still remember that and am still gratefull, yeah still get them, mind you I found something that gets rid of them, get stung by 15 bees, it cured my migraine but almost killed me.

  • Amanda Tarlau
    8 years ago

    You still get them, poor you. I remember when you got one at work and I drove you home.

  • Debbie Jones
    8 years ago

    I never knew there was a word for these things I feel before I get a migraine! In fact, I had mentioned it to a neurologist once and he looked at me like I was crazy or something. Three of my biggest prodrome symptoms are yawning, I go into a cleaning frenzy and cravings. The cravings are of the foods that can trigger my migraines.

  • Jean Oliver
    8 years ago

    I can feel my irregular heart beat in my head for 1-2 days before a migraine.

  • Rae Sawyer
    8 years ago

    I smell things that are not there.

  • Kayla Klein
    8 years ago

    I have been in this stage for the past 3 days! I have one symptom that is not listed or at least I believe it is a symptom. I have sore spots on my head but yet its not painful to the touch. Its feels sore and bruised on the inside. My right eye hurts constantly even though I’m on depakote EC. working 10 hour days is so hard. I sometime wish that I could have a brain trasplant.

  • Rhonda Grensberg-Smith
    8 years ago

    I have actually had scans done because I thought it had cancer or something. It is like I suddenly can’t think straight or even concentrate on the task at hand. Being a mom that can be scary sometimes.

  • Vanita Suzanne
    7 years ago

    I too had all types of tests (CT scan, MRI) done because they thought it might be some type of brain tumor, but… nope- just migraines! I still find it hard to believe a condition such as migraine that has the same symptoms as brain cancer is not readily accepted by the public as a serious medical condition!

  • Zach Young
    7 years ago

    i cannot believe there are other people out there that know how i feel

  • Becky Davenport
    8 years ago

    I have difficulty finding words. I cannot always answer a direct question with any speed, and can actually have to describe something, or point to it, instead of locating the word. Its concerning to those around me and I get concerned that they think I am on drugs or drunk….fun stuff.

  • Karen Farmer
    7 years ago

    Aphasia (the technical term) is one of the symptoms that hits (after visual aura and numbness on one side of my body) I’ll hear a song that I know, but can’t sing a long with. I don’t quite understand questions or may know the answer but I can’t find the words. My sister once described it as trying to talk with a mentally disabled person. That was the first symptom I encountered when I had my first migraine around the age of 5 (that I know of). I couldn’t remember the word “milk” at dinner. My parents thought I was goofing around but got more and more concerned that their verbal 5 year old really was having trouble understanding their questions and talking.

  • Barbara Gronstrom Harrison
    8 years ago

    It feels as though the center of my brain is “moving.” It is very hard to describe. Has anyone else experienced this?

  • Christine Harrison
    8 years ago

    I know that feeling! I have tried to describe it to others. It feels like my brain is trying to slam into my skull (usually to the right). Doesn’t hurt, just get a little dizzy while it’s happening.

  • Kathi Hennessey
    8 years ago

    I start yawning and feeling overwhelmed with no good reason.

  • Julie Brown
    8 years ago

    Have been experiencing severe tiredness last two days, just discovered it has a name…prodrome. Unfortunateley I know what is coming next 🙁

  • arthasdk
    8 years ago

    Thank you for posting this article. I do experience symptoms of prodrome, unfortunately I don’t always recognize it until after the migraine, when I am trying to sort out the “why” and determine what might have triggered it. The description of having a premonition that something is not right is the best way to describe it. When it happens to me, I do feel “off” and cranky and can’t quite figure out why.

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