What is a Migraine Like?

Through conversations with people I have realized one thing - people who don't have migraines are often extraordinarily curious about what it is like to have a migraine. Even those who have migraines ask me what it's like to have the type of migraine (Basilar Artery Migraines). I thought it might be interesting to make a blog post describing what my migraines are like for what is "typical" or as close to typical as it gets.

Prodrome Stage

I often can tell you that a migraine is coming. It's not because I'm "doom and gloom". It usually begins with dropping things, some mild shaking or a sudden onset of mood/attitude change that is unwarranted I often affectionately call this "the drops" as does my mother (who also suffers from migraines). At this point I take precautions through extra water, some good nutrition snacks and meals and complete avoidance of caffeine, chocolate or my other triggers. (I have a wide variety of triggers which is a whole other post by itself). In my office if I don't catch my "early signs" my co-workers will often indicate to me that my eyes are "half-open" when they know is a sign of a migraine.

Aura Stage

While I take precaution there are a number of things that follow. First, there is a chance that I will not get the pain or aura symptoms (yay!). Unfortunately more often than not I start to get my aura. For me an aura ranges. Most of the time it starts with a loss of words, confusion or inability to complete sentences or stuttering over words. I start to lose my balance - crashing into walls, catching my balance on the counters or sometimes in severe cases falling down. Finally, I begin to see "flashes" of light before my eyes. They obstruct my vision almost 80% causing me to see basic shapes or colors - but limiting my vision to the point where I cannot drive, read or focus. This is often the most terrifying in combination with the other symptoms makes me feel as if that is what a stroke would feel like. Luckily the vision symptoms only last about 30-45 minutes.

Headache Stage

Pain wise - I begin to feel a painful burning sensation in my neck and behind my ears. It shoots pain up the back of my neck and usually is accompanied with a throbbing sensation. The pain is sometimes also located above my eyes, through my sinuses, or on the top of my head. The duration of the pain can be from 1 hour to 12 hours - but usually is around 4 hours. Often times it hurts to move, sit, stand or even lay down. The pain begins to affect my entire body, causing me to shake, sweat, and my heart races from the pain level.

Postdrome Stage

After the pain of a migraine subsides, the episode is not entirely over. I usually have a period of 12-24 hours following that leaves me feeling lethargic, slower in my movements and unable to think as clearly as usual. We often refer to this as a migraine "hangover" since the feelings that come with migraines seem to just hang out with us. Most of the time my balance and speech issues start to subside at this point, but I have noticed that if the migraine is exceptionally painful that the symptoms seem to last longer.

After a migraine episode, I often wonder when the next one will happen again. Mild symptoms such as the balance and speech often happen without pain (2-3 times a week). They refer to these as "silent" migraines. While they often cause speculation about me, I have found that being open about my problems and willing to talk has helped other understand what I am going through instead of resorting to secondhand commentary or rumors. Mild pain migraines often happen 1-2 times a week - but the high pain migraines may only happen 5 times a month.


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