Patient Blogs | Migraine
What the Stages of Migraine Are for Me
photo of woman with headache on sofa

Medical professionals spell out the stages of a migraine attack in a specific format in articles and blog posts on websites all over the internet. The following descriptions come from right here at WebMD. Check out the article “What Is Migraine?” for complete definitions.

  1. Prodrome: Occurs hours or days before a headache and can include light, sound, or smell sensitivity, fatigue, changes in appetite, and mood changes.
  2. Aura: Nervous system symptoms that typically last less than an hour including visual anomalies, ringing ears, changes in smell or taste, speech problems, etc.
  3. Attack: Duration is anywhere from 4 hours to 3 or more days and can include headache, nausea, and vomiting.
  4. Postdrome: Duration can be up to a day after the attack with symptoms of fatigue, weakness, changes in appetite, or feelings of euphoria.

In practical terms, migraine stages aren’t always straightforward. Not all migraine warriors experience all stages, and the stages may overlap more than a step-by-step description suggests. Not all migraine episodes present themselves in the same manner either.

Prodrome Stage

The prodrome phase is usually quite short for me, maybe 30 minutes to an hour. I become sensitive to regular household lighting and the television sounds loud when it really isn’t any louder than my normal volume setting. I’ve been known to get a little cranky, too.

Aura Stage

My ears ring all the time. The question for me is if the volume of the ringing is turned up or at a regular level. Louder than usual ringing usually means migraine. I have noticed my speech slurring a bit a few hours before an episode, but this can happen a day in advance.

Some of my visual anomalies are in line with the standard definition of aura, while others vary a little bit. I often experience an increase in floating dots in my vision shortly before the attack phase.  Hallucinations are rare for me, but when they do occur, they happen after the attack phase has begun, not before.

Attack Stage

Hallucinations most often described as aura symptoms will occur in the attack phase for me. Such symptoms have included words disappearing from a book or a car disappearing from the lane beside me. This is how I learned it’s not safe for me to drive during a migraine episode.

Headache pain varies from mild to excruciating and is only on one side of my head. Sometimes the right side, sometimes the left side. Nausea also varies from a mild upset stomach to waves of dizzying discomfort. I usually take medicine long before the nausea reaches the point of vomiting, but sometimes the progression has occurred too rapidly for medicine to prevent it.

Postdrome Stage

I’m wiped out for a couple of hours during my postdrome phase. Not enough to keep from functioning, but enough to notice. I don’t see this in the list of postdrome symptoms, but I pee a lot during this phase. I don’t know if this is an official thing or just a thing for me.

During nighttime attacks, the migraine episode makes its way into my dreams, telling me to wake up and take medicine. When the migraine reaches postdrome, I wake up again suddenly feeling euphoric about the lack of pain.

Acquiring standard knowledge about migraine disease and adapting that to my specific form of migraine is a big part of my migraine management plan. How does the definition of your migraine stages affect your prevention and treatment plans? 


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Photo Credit: Ekaterina Goncharova / Moment via Getty Images

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Tammy Hader

Tammy Hader

Diagnosed since 1986

Tammy Hader has been a migraine warrior for over 5 decades. A staunch proponent of migraine management, she has developed the knowledge base to help her navigate relationships, an accounting career, and many lifecycle changes. Hader lives with her husband and cat in southcentral Kansas and enjoys writing, cooking, hiking, and football season. Follow her on Twitter, Medium and Bizcatalyst360.

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