Skip to Accessibility Tools Skip to Content Skip to Footer

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.


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.


  • Nancy Harris Bonk moderator
    7 years ago

    Good for you Heather, writing can be very therapeutic. Do find some type of journal to track your triggers. Have you looked at’s Migraine Meter? Let me give you the link; This may be a helpful tool. If it doesn’t fit your needs there are other “apps” online to check out. Good luck and let me know if I can assist in any way!

  • Heather author
    7 years ago

    Nancy, thank you for your kind words! I am working on a blog right now to talk about my identification of my triggers! I would love all the help I can get though! I am finding that some triggers are easy to identify, but there seem to be migraines that still occur for “no reason” at all meaning there are still triggers out there that I don’t identify with or understand. Thanks! 🙂

  • Heather author
    7 years ago

    Thank you Julie for your comments! I am currently taking preventative and abortive medicines for my migraines – along with keeping a diary on my iPhone to manage triggers. I have had migraines since I was 12 – but they have morphed in the last 2-3 years into what I am currently dealing with. Thank you for your kinds words! I have found that writing is really helping me too – so I hope to continue my blogging efforts as I am finding that it helps others around me also!

  • Nancy Harris Bonk moderator
    7 years ago

    Hi HeatherLynn,

    You’ve done a great job explaining your migraines, thank you for sharing the details with us. It’s great to know we aren’t alone in this, although it can certainly feel that way at times. Trigger identification and management are real important parts of a migraine management plan. Finding them isn’t always easy to do, but let me give you some information that may be helpful (if you need it!)
    Keep us posted on your journey, OK?

  • Julie
    7 years ago

    Thank you so much for sharing your story. It is very helpful to learn that migraines are different from person to person and to hear each persons account how a Migraine affects them is so important. Some of what you describe I can relate to and other symptoms are so scary-crashing into walls! I hope and pray that you never seriously hurt yourself during one of your episodes. I have fallen down on a few occassions and loose my balance, but to crash into things!!
    The aura stage is scary and hopefully they do not occur while you are out and having to drive to get home or to a doctor.
    Are you seeing a migraine specialist who has you on preventive meds as well as your abortives? Have you kept a diary for him w/all these symptoms as well as a food diary. Do you know what your triggers are food and/or weather wise? A Migraine diary is a great tool to have. I kept one several years ago then stopped. I started doing another one again, but this one is to track my migraines, pain intensity, meds taken, treatments taken, duration, symptoms, location of pain.
    If you have an iPod or iPhone there are some free and some for a small fee that you can add to track your migrianes and customize to add your own meds, location and intensity of pain, therapy. You can track daily and it has a Midas questionaire and email it to yourself or to your doctor and it will print out a graph and chart. It’s a lot better than writing it down. I bought the full version to customize it more since the free version was too restricted. It’s called echoHeadache. Then I have MigraineMate and since some of mine are weather related I have an Antique Barometer and I track the readings in the AM and PM. If the pressure rises or drops drastically it will set one off for me. I was never a big fan of Apple but when I got my iPod as a birthday gift this past August and found out about these apps now I love it. I have pill reminders on that as well as my Android Cellphone since I’m notorious for forgetting to take my preventive pills on time 🙁
    But I pray that things go well for you and you get the help you need to control your migraines and get those scary aura effects under control before you seriously hurt yourself.
    Prayers are with you.

  • sharonater
    6 years ago

    Hi Heather,
    I joined this forum because I personally don’t know anyone who has basilar migraines besides myself. Even my very well respected neurologist was a little shocked when I passed out in his office and had absolutely no speaking ability. I experience almost the exact same symptoms you do except for the vision issues. I pass out quite often and have needlessley been rushed to many hospitals. The weird thing is I never had a migraine in my life until I was almost 48. Its been 15 months now and I have had one every day since. Can you tell me what preventatives your on. I have tried topomax twice and both times quit because of the side effects. I am now trying depakote for the second time. I have tried neurotin and keppra (only gave that one a day), elavil (one week) and verapamil. I just would like to find somethign that gets me down to maybe 2 to 3 migraines a week instead of every day. Thanks for your story and your feedback would be appreciated.

  • Poll