man with hand on temple looking at laptop
Photo by Andrea Piacquadio on

Headaches are common problems which are mostly caused due to stress and sometimes are expected to resolve themselves especially after having the much-needed rest. However, there are times your headache isn’t just a severe headache; it could be a sign of something much more.

If you decide to take a closer look at the types of headaches you get and other symptoms that are accompanying it, there is a good chance that that pain you feel isn’t a headache, it is a migraine.

According to the Migraine Researchers foundation, the majority of people who suffer from this ailment are not diagnosed. There is even a crazier fact that has recently been discovered. According to the National Institute of Neurological Disorders and stroke, the amount of women who suffer migraine is three times the number of men. That’s huge right?

This, therefore, should prompt you to take a closer look at migraines and recognise its symptoms. It is time to stop regarding it as a severe headache and expecting it to resolve on its own. Now is the time to discover what it indeed is and know what to do with yourself when you begin to have the attacks.

Let us begin with what migraines are. According to the National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke, a migraine can be regarded as a brain disease that can cause uncomfortable signs and symptoms and can last longer mostly within the period of 4 hours and 3 days.

In other words, this means that having a migraine will give you uncomfortable symptoms and here is the twist; they last so much longer than regular headaches. If you are feeling pains around your head region for more than 4 hours, then you don’t have a headache. You are having a migraine.

Another question that is expected to run through your mind is “What causes Migraine?”. According to the Migraine Research Foundation, there is no known cause for it just yet. However, it has been observed that both genetic and environmental factors have been seen to play a vital role in the development of migraines.

Also, according to Dr Jessica Ailani who is the director of the MedStar Georgetown Headache Centre in Washington D. C, she says that most of the symptoms of migraine are usually caused as a result of changes in the chemical activity of the brain which brings about an effect on the central and peripheral nervous systems respectively.

Then how can you tell if what you are having is a headache, a migraine or simply a sinus attack? Apart from the duration at which the pain lasts, there are other symptoms that you can take note of before the attack, during or even after the attack.

However, there is one fact to take note of. Not all people experience the same symptoms of migraines. This means that you may be experiencing a completely different symptom than that which your friend or family member experiences.

Another factor one must take note of when considering the symptoms of migraine is how fast they come up. Some symptoms begin to show immediately the attack, or chemical changes start while other symptoms take a long time before they manifest.

According to Mayo Clinic, sometimes, these symptoms can begin when the person is asleep, hence causing the person to wake up to a migraine but most times, this doesn’t happen frequently. In other words, not all migraines are the same.

Each migraine headache has a distinct symptom, and as annoying as this may sound, we can only give a list of symptoms which may be experienced, but you should most likely look out for others and not focus on just one sign.

In this article, we would be giving a combined list of symptoms most sufferers have been known to experience. You must note that when you are having these symptoms, you do need to take some steps and not just wait for the pain to resolve itself or you expect it to go as a result of some cheap painkiller meds you see lying around.

1. An intensely throbbing pain

Have you ever felt like your head is a drum that is being fiercely played on? Most patients who suffer Migraine headaches usually feel as though a million drumsticks are hitting their head all at once. This may sound like an exaggeration, but the pain can be quite as intense as this.

According to Ailani, most patients usually complain of feeling as though their head will explode or as if they can feel their vein throbbing. Having a painful headache is enough to dampen your day and make you crushed for that entire day.

If you are almost always experiencing this pain, then you don’t have just a headache, you are experiencing a classic sign of a migraine headache, and it’s best to take things easy for a while.

2. Having an intense pain on one side of the head

While it is entirely possible to experience a migraine headache on both sides of the head, it is however common for migraines to be felt on just one part of the head. As if having a throbbing pain isn’t enough, you can imagine having this throbbing pain on only one corner of the head.

This also may account as a difference between migraine headaches and a stress headache or a sinus headache. A stress headache is mostly felt all around the head while a migraine headache is felt at one part while for a sinus headache, you will feel the pain all over as well but more pressure around the eye sockets, the nose, the cheeks and the forehead.

You probably are asking to know why a migraine headache is mostly felt at one part of the head? Well, the reason for that is not yet known; However, scientists have a theory that says this occurs due to the location of the trigeminal nerve.

The trigeminal nerve is located at each side of the brain, and most times, when a migraine is about to occur or has already started, it often affects just one trigeminal nerve on one part of the brain not the two of them at the same time.

According to Ailani, every time a migraine hits, it always finds the trigeminal nerve the easiest part of reaching the brain, and since one of it has been the pathway for it before, it always manages to take that same route again. Think of it as having a familiar path to its destination.

3. Having flashes or seeing sparkling lights

Another common phenomenon that is closely related to migraine headaches is having flashes or mostly seeing bright lights during the pain. Here is what happens.

According to Dr Adele Jann (M. D) who is a neurologist working at New York University Langone Health, he says that whenever a migraine is about to occur, there is a slow wavelike form of electricity that transcends from the pack of the brain(the occipital region) to the front of the brain(known as the frontal region).

Whenever that happens, it causes a decrease in the blood flow in the brain, and basically, everything slows down. One of the things that must never decrease in circulation in the brain is blood because blood conveys glucose which is vital to the brain for enhancing all brain activities.

Whenever there is a decrease in the blood flow in the brain, naturally, every brain activity slows down in order to maximise the use of blood apportioned to it. Don’t forget; the brain also controls the visual pathway. Once the brain activities slow down, an aura is formed, and according to the Migraine Research Foundations, about 25% of patients who suffer from migraine attacks usually experience an aura during or before the attack.

This visual aura created by the slow activities in the brain can, in turn, cause different forms of distorted vision which includes sparkling light visions, a vision of different colours appearing all at once, pixelated pictures, flashes on one part of the visual fields or jagged lines that are colourful in nature.

This vision changes occur when there is a disruption of the visual pathway, and this tells the sufferer that he or she is about having a migraine. A patient who suffers from tension or stress headaches, as well as sinus headaches, will never experience this kind of disruption in his or visual pathway.

4. Weakness and tingling

If you thought it was only the visual pathway that is affected due to the decreased brain activities when the migraine patient has his or her attacks, then you thought wrong. When there is a reduced brain speed, the sensory pathways in the brain are also affected hence causing a sensory aura.

When a migraine sufferer has an impairment in the sensory pathway, the sufferer will begin to experience numbness, tingling and even severe weakness at one side of the body. It is known that the left side of the brain controls the right side of the body and the right side of the brain controls the left side of the body.

In other words, if the patient has these disruptions in the left side of the brain, the patient will have numbness on the right side of the body, and if it is the right side of the brain that experiences these disruptions, then the left side of the body will pay the price.

Some patients have also been seen to have speech aura when they have decreased brain movements. This causes the patient to have difficulties assembling words together; hence they become incoherent in their speech.

According to Mayo Clinic, whenever this occurs, the symptoms almost always match the signs of stroke but it should be noted that these two brain diseases are totally unrelated.

5. Intense feelings of nausea

Many patients who have been seen to suffer from migraines have always been seen also to have nausea as a symptom of their disease. Some patients even go a step further by experiencing dizziness and even may sometimes vomit while having these attacks.

According to Ailani, our gut also have a nervous system. This means that the brain also controls whatever happens in our stomach. The sympathetic and the parasympathetic nervous system is what often controls the gut, and none other than the brain controls these two systems.

This means that any brain activity will affect your gut as well. According to the experts, after much observations, it has been noted that gut movements often slows down during a migraine attack and in turn, these slow movements of the gut can cause nausea.

Furthermore, research has it that there is a connection between gastrointestinal disorders and migraines; however, that link has not yet been fully discovered.

6. An increased sense of smell

It has already been established that whenever there is a migraine attack, there is a decrease in brain activities and this, in turn, leads to hyperactivity of the different pathways of the brain. This is why there is a disruption in the sense of vision, speech disorders and so on.

Most migraine sufferers have been seen to have heightened senses. According to Dr Jann, most patients often have increased senses of smell, touch, vision and so on. She says that everything happens to be kicked up a notch and the patient tends to notice different smells, noises, and lights much more than usual.

This is the reason why when you are having a migraine headache, it is entirely possible to be able to perceive a neighbour’s lunch all the way down, and it is very likely to continually hear your neighbour’s song even if it isn’t that loud.

According to the Therapeutic Advances in Chronic disease study say that most sufferers almost always want to seek refuge in dark, enclosed, quiet, cool room especially when the pain is at its peak.

7. Even after the pain is gone, you are still feeling entirely out of it

According to the Journal notes of Neuroscience study, most patients who suffer from migraine headaches have been seen to experience a lot of conflicting emotions and hence may experience depression, irritability, euphoria, and so on.

These symptoms may be seen before, during or even at times after the attack. Some patients also have been reported to experience extreme difficulties in concentrating on their work. According to Dr Jann, you may notice before the attacks that you are struggling to get through a document you are reading which usually isn’t supposed to be a difficult task.

Most of the time, the patient keeps feeling out of it and suddenly doesn’t want to do anything anymore. This is as a result of the slowing down of activities in the brain which is closely related to migraine attacks.

8. The intense throbbing of your head affects your entire life

Here is a fact we must all understand. A migraine is not simply a headache. A migraine is intensely disabling. According to Jann, it not only affects your schedule, but it can also affect your whole day(s) bringing it to a halt and in turn influence and disrupt your life.

Most of the time, having a migraine headache destabilises you and turns your day upside down. Remember, we said the minimum amount of days to experience a migraine is four days. So you can imagine always having to sacrifice 4 days of your life to this disease.

When you begin to experience the attack, the pain happens to be so intense to let you miss work, disruption your social life, interfere with your schedule and so on. According to Dr Ailani, it is like you are trying to go about having a typical day and your brain just keeps saying, “No, you can’t.

I won’t let you”. Having a typical tension headache or a sinus headache may put you down for a few hours, and you sleep it off, and the next moment, you are up on your feet. However, a migraine will put you down for several days and leave you feeling exhausted without doing anything.

9. You are always easily tired

All migraine suffers have been known to have one thing in common; mental exhaustion that always transcends into physical fatigue. According to Dr Ailani, you can consider it as your brain is busy having an utterly exhausting and painful party.

After you have a migraine attack, you may feel like having a cup of coffee to bring you back to life. Unfortunately, coffee can’t even do anything to jolt you back. Think of it as though your brain is trying to clean up its own mess after the wild party that it has had, and no amount of coffee can help do that.

10. You have a stiff neck

Remember we discussed about a particular nerve known as the trigeminal nerve? According to Mayo Clinic, the trigeminal nerve plays a vital role in the body as well as its affected when a migraine attack happens.

Whenever the trigeminal nerve is stimulated, it creates a significant pain pathway just around the upper part of the spinal cord. According to Dr Ailani, whenever this gets excited, it sends a signal upwards towards the brain.

Before it gets to the brain, the neck region is also there, and the trigeminal nerve has branches in the neck hence it sends forth pain signals to the neck causing pain and possible stiffness of the neck.

11. The pain feels like there is no end

We have already established the fact that migraines last between four hours and even up to three or four days. Depends on the frequency and its severity, you may likely have the attacks several times a year.

In other words, this means that these attacks are too frequent and certainly very painful. However, regular tension or sinus headaches never happen that frequently or last that long. So how long it lasts may account to the type of headache you are feeling.

Having known a compilation of symptoms, what then should you do when you have this headache or when should you seek medical attention?

  1. You should seek medical care if you keep trying to use over the counter drugs, but none of them seems to be working for you.
  2. You should find medical attention if the pain becomes too frequent for comfort.
  3. You should seek medical care if you notice that this pain always hinders most of your work and life activities.

You should also endeavour to discuss with your medical practitioner about the kinds of drugs to use to help reduce the pain.

In conclusion, migraine headaches are excruciating and debilitating. However, knowing your unusual symptoms can help you detect it early and try and manage it before it springs out of control.