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How to Recognize an Approaching Migraine Before It Begins

 The first symptoms of an approaching migraine can appear days before an attack. This may sound bad, but these first signs are usually quite subtle and do not affect one’s daily life. In fact, people can learn to track these subtle changes and use this knowledge to prevent, reduce the severity of a nearing attack, or considerably shorten its duration.
Below, we list 8 early signs of an approaching migraine and explain what can be done to break off an impending migraine attack before it even begins.

The Stages of a Migraine

Migraine Prodrome Signs woman with a migraine

For many people, migraines are a recurring issue. Migraine episodes cause a throbbing headache, nausea, and extreme light and sound sensitivity. This pain can continue for hours to days, and it can be so severe that it interferes with your daily life. Differentiating between the various stages of a migraine episode and its symptoms helps manage the condition and reduce how much it affects their daily activities.

A typical migraine attack consists of 4 stages:

1. Prodrome. 1 to 3 days before an attack, you may notice the first subtle signs of a migraine episode.
2. Aura. Some patients experience blurry vision, flashing lights, or numbness or tingling in the face that spreads down the arm 10-30 minutes before the onset of a migraine.
3. Attack. This is the peak of a migraine attack. It lasts between 4 and 72 hours.
4. Postdrome. From 24 to 48 hours after an attack, a person may feel drained, fatigued, and confused. Sudden head movements may be painful as well during this time.

If you are suffering from recurrent migraine episodes, it’s useful to be mindful of the way you feel during the prodrome or even record how you feel in a journal. Being able to predict a migraine early on helps halt its progression altogether or reduce its severity.

8 Early Signs of Migraine Episode

Some people just say that they feel weird or out of place before a migraine, but others have more numerous and specific symptoms. Although these symptoms can differ from person to person, there are several common signs many migraine sufferers experience. We list 8 of such prodrome symptoms here.

Migraine Prodrome Signs light sensitivity

1. Light and sound sensitivity are common symptoms of a migraine attack, but they can begin days before an actual headache. For some people, loud noises, bright lights, and strong smells - such as the smell of strong perfume - can even trigger a migraine. Over 90% of migraine sufferers have some kind of sensory sensitivity before and during a migraine.

2. Sugar cravings. Strong food cravings, especially a sweet tooth, are a widespread sign of an upcoming migraine. Some migraine sufferers report craving chocolate, while others crave soda or other sweets.

Migraine Prodrome Signs eating donuts

3. Ear pressure. Some patients report ear pressure or having plugged-up ears a few days before an episode. This symptom can be easy to miss, as it’s also common for allergies and other conditions not related to migraines.

4. Mood changes and restlessness. Swift shifts in mood, or just a persistent feeling of restlessness or anxiety, as if something isn’t right, can be the only prodrome symptom. It doesn’t have to be a bad mood either - some patients report feeling euphoric or elated right before a migraine.

5. Fatigue and neck stiffness are the most common warning signs of a migraine. If your neck feels tight and you feel tired, even though you had a good night’s sleep, it could point to an upcoming migraine attack.

Migraine Prodrome Signs man yawning

6. Toilet issues. Increased urination, indigestion, constipation, or diarrhea are all common signs of an upcoming migraine. Some specific foods are even known to trigger migraines on their own. Read more on the topic here - 16 Migraine-Causing Foods That Should Be Avoided.

7. Frequent yawning and tongue-tingling. Strange and unusual sensations, such as yawning non-stop, tongue-tingling, and restless legs can point to a nearing migraine episode in some people.

8. Sensing smells that aren’t there. The last sensory disturbance very common among migraine sufferers are so-called “phantom smells.” As the name suggests, people who have this symptom experience scents that aren’t there. One could sense unpleasant smells like cigarette smoke or bleach, but also pleasant scents, such as lemons or perfume.

Migraine Prodrome Signs woman smelling something unpleasant

Related Article: The Biggest Migraine Myths You Should Be Aware Of

What To Do Before a Migraine

Let’s say that you already know what triggers your migraine, or you’re experiencing prodrome symptoms - what now? There are several things you can do to prevent or shorten a migraine episode. First and foremost, start pain relievers as soon as you can. It doesn’t matter if you’re taking prescription drugs or over-the-counter pain relievers, such as acetaminophen, ibuprofen, or aspirin, early treatment can stop a migraine in its tracks and significantly reduce its severity.
Migraine Prodrome Signs man with a migraine
Certain migraine prescription medications, such as triptans, are considerably more effective when they are taken during the prodrome. Be careful and don’t take higher doses than you were advised, or else you could get a headache or experience other side effects.
Caffeine is helpful for some people experiencing migraines too, but make sure not to have more than the recommended 2-3 cups of coffee a day to maintain healthy sleep too. Get plenty of sleep and try to relax too. Migraines have a strong emotional component, and lack of sleep and stress could even trigger a migraine, so don’t feel guilty and pamper yourself.
One last thing you can do is to avoid bright lights, sounds, and smells. These strong stimuli can worsen your attack, so make sure to avoid foods and drinks that smell strong, such as cheese and alcohol, wear a pair of sunglasses, and dim the lights indoors. For more preventative tips, read our article 9 Ways You Can Stop a Migraine Before It Starts. Take care!
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