What Is Migraine?

Migraine is one of the most misunderstood conditions. Is it a condition, an illness or a disease?

Google ‘what is migraine’ is to discover that there’s no clear cut definition. The Migraine Trust’s definition is:

“Migraine is a complex condition with a wide variety of symptoms. For many people the main feature is a painful headache. Other symptoms include disturbed vision, sensitivity to light, sound and smells, feeling sick and vomiting. Migraine attacks can be very frightening and may result in you having to lie still for several hours.”

While there are a myriad of migraine classifications the main two types are migraine with aura and migraine without aura.

4 Typical Phases of Migraine

1. Pro-drome
Between 30-40% of people with migraine experience the pro-drome phase. Possible signs, which can last from 1 – 24 hours, include:

  • constipation or diarrhea &/or needing to pee more often
  • trouble concentrating
  • yawning lots, feeling tired &/or sleepy
  • craving foods e.g chocolate, salty chips, vinegar, coffee, lemons
  • hyperactivity
  • changing moods – feeling depressed, impatience, short-tempered etc.
  • neck pain

2. Aura
Approximately, 25% of people with migraine experience this phase, which can last from 5-60 minutes. It can include:

  • feeling hypersensitive to touch so what would be “normal” is painful
  • visual disturbances such as dark spots, coloured spots, wavy lines, zigzags and stars.
  • smelling odours that aren’t really there
  • feeling dizzy
  • vertigo
  • numbness or tingling
  • pins and needles in the arms and legs.
  • weakness on one side of the body

“See your doctor immediately if you experience the signs and symptoms of migraine with aura, such as temporary vision loss or floating spots or zigzag lines in your field of vision. Your doctor will need to rule out more-serious conditions, such as a stroke or retinal tear. Once these conditions are ruled out, you won’t need to see your doctor about future migraines unless your symptoms change.” Mayo Clinic

3. Pain Phase Plus
The pain phase may range from mild to severe to unbearable. It is usually on one side of the head, but not always. You may find the pain phase varies between migraine episodes.

Plus, other symptoms that some people experience during this phase include nausea (feeling like you’re going to throw up) and vomiting (throwing up). You may also feel more sensitive to light and sound, leading many people to seek sanctuary in a quiet, dark room.

4. Post-drome
Also known as the ‘migraine hangover’, the post-drome phase is still part of a migraine episode. This phase may last a few hours up to several days. Typically symptoms include:

  • tiredness – feeling like a washed-out rag
  • feeling euphoric
  • feeling downhearted
  • struggling to think clearly and concentrate

Migraine is more than just the symptoms

Migraine is a condition that is not only about the symptoms. It is an experience that can impact your whole life.

Perhaps a more helpful question to ask is not “what is migraine?” but, what does it mean for you to live with migraine?