The Myriad Warning Signs of a Migraine

It is both a blessing and a curse that the warning signs for migraine become so obvious to those who have lived with the condition for years. So many of the symptoms are things that our friends, family, and coworkers likely don’t understand.

But, as it turns out, many of these symptoms may, in fact, all be "normal". Kerrie Smyres detailed her experiences in her piece, “Prodrome: Migraine Warning Signs,” which sparked much reaction and feedback. Nearly 500 community members commented, sharing their own experiences about the early warning signs of a migraine attack.

Here’s what you had to share:

“I know one is coming when I get clumsy.”

For many people, depth perception and balance are affected during the prodrome phase, leading up to a migraine. It’s worth keeping an eye on, and if it’s something that does precede your migraine, you have a clear warning. One friend calls it “the dropsies” and knows that it’s a signal to slow down, get quiet, and let the brain and body recalibrate.

“I know one is coming when I get clumsy, my neck hurts, I have trouble finding the right words, the ‘off’ feeling.”

“Sometimes I’ll get a little clumsy. I’ll keep dropping my keys or my pens, and then I know it’s coming. Not sure if there is a pattern, but clumsy prodromes tend to give a milder pain but with more nausea.”

Eye tearing and yawning before the migraine attack

More than 70% of people with migraine experience one or more autonomic symptoms.1 They result from the automatic nervous system, responsible for our glands. These symptoms generally fit with the signals marking a sinus headache or migraine. They are fairly normal with migraine, although this symptom is one that is harder to explain to others.

“I DEFINITELY get the eye tearing. Also, frequently, the ‘off’ feeling, as well. I’ve had the nausea (which sometimes results in actual vomiting), dizzy or spacey feeling, ringing in my ears, light auras, yawning and sighing.

“Once at work, a coworker asked if I was all right. I said, ‘Yes, why?’ Tears came to my eyes and she thought I was on the verge of crying. I’ve also had tearing all day in one eye, usually left, so I wasn’t surprised.”

“My number one sign is yawning. I can yawn between 10 and 20 times in less than 5 minutes. It’s just constant.”

There’s no easy explanation as to why so many people who live with migraine frequently experience unstoppable yawning prior to onset. One theory suggests that this may be the body’s way of remind you it’s time for rest and relaxation. Although, several of you mentioned that you didn’t feel tired or even notice that you were yawning when it was happening. The good news is that others do notice, and if this happens to you, you can take advantage of this as a sign to seek early treatment intervention.

“Smelling phantom smells”

Not only is it common to be especially sensitive to smells during a migraine, but it is also somewhat likely that those with the condition may experience odors that aren’t present in their physical environment. It is believed that 95% of people with migraine experience phantom smells.2

“Seeing colored auras, smelling phantom smells like cigarette or campfire smoke when there isn’t any.”

“Smell non-existent aromas, suddenly burning up, irritable beyond reason, and unusually tired.”

Craving all the comfort food

Many of you mentioned cravings, especially for a mix of comfort food. It is common for the body to send desire signals for food when we are tired or stressed. When we have a migraine, our body is definitely not feeling well, and our food cravings may be an attempt for the body to get more energy, feel grounded, or simply experience a bit of pleasure amid the discomfort.

“Frequent urination, sugar cravings, ice-cold feet, irritability, nausea, a feeling of urgency to get things done.”

“Sugar cravings and fatty food cravings.”

We want to say a hearty thank you to everyone in the community who shared so openly about their own experiences. Feel free to comment with your own migraine warning signs!

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This article represents the opinions, thoughts, and experiences of the author; none of this content has been paid for by any advertiser. The team does not recommend or endorse any products or treatments discussed herein. Learn more about how we maintain editorial integrity here.

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