4 Potential Stages of a Migraine

4 Potential Stages of a Migraine

As any of the one in four households in the United States with a migraine sufferer will tell you, a migraine can be anything but a simple headache. In fact, this complex neurological disorder affects people in many different ways and often in stages, which we explore below.

Our team here at High Rock Internal Medicine believes that education is one of the best frontline tools our patients have for managing chronic conditions like migraines. Through awareness, you can recognize the early signs of a migraine and take evasive action, as well as seek the care you need for longer-lasting relief.

While migraines are as varied as those who suffer from them, there are some rules of thumb, which we refer to as stages. It’s important to note that not everyone who gets a migraine follows the same pattern, but most experience at least a few of these stages with each attack.


Migraines often come with early warning signs, which typically set in 24-48 hours before a full-blown attack. These symptoms vary, but many report:

  • Mood swings
  • Food cravings
  • Unusual thirst
  • Muscle stiffness
  • Fatigue
  • Excessive yawning
  • Digestive issues
  • Heightened senses, including sight, sound, and smell

Again, this list is by no means comprehensive, but it gives you an idea of what to look out for so you can recognize an impending migraine attack.


About one-third of those who suffer frequent migraine attacks experience a stage called aura, which is the onset of neurological symptoms about an hour before the head pain, such as:

  • Visual disturbances, such as flashing lights or wavy lines in your vision
  • Tingling and numbness in your face
  • Dizziness
  • Garbled speech
  • Cognitive issues and confusion
  • Hearing difficulties

Here again, if you experience aura, your neurological symptoms may be different from what’s on this list, but these represent the most common complaints.


The third stage of a migraine is the one where head pain sets in, which is usually a throbbing that occurs only on one side of your head. The headache can come with other unpleasant symptoms, including:

  • Nausea and vomiting
  • Hypersensitivity to light and sound
  • Anxiety
  • Hot flashes and chills
  • Diarrhea

This stage of a migraine can last for a few hours or a few days.


Also referred to as a migraine “hangover,” the postdrome stage occurs after the intense head pain subsides and can last for up to a few days. During this aftermath of a migraine attack, you may experience:

  • Fatigue
  • Confusion
  • Mood swings
  • Body aches
  • Neck stiffness

Most people who go through a migraine attack feel wiped after the ordeal, especially if the head pain went on for a prolonged period.

Where your head pain fits in

If we haven’t emphasized this enough, migraines can take on many different forms, so it’s important to fully understand the many symptoms or stages that often accompany them. In fact, these stages can blend together and overlap, making migraines even more difficult to pin down.

Still, by recognizing the signs, especially the early ones, we can better manage your migraines through preventive and abortive medications and trigger management plans.

To learn more about the many signs of a migraine, call our office in Lexington, North Carolina at 336-477-9110, or schedule an appointment online.