Before and After a Migraine: Know the Signs and Symptoms

How to track the common stages of a migraine attack

While migraine attacks have specific tendencies, there are several warning signs to clue you in that an attack may be on the way. Not all individuals experience these warning signs, but being prepared may allow you ample time to take abortive medicines that could ease the severity of the headache and its associated symptoms.

On the other side of the attack, migraine sufferers should prepare for a potential  “migraine hangover” which can occur one to two days after the main headache. This period, called the postdrome, may include symptoms such as fatigue, a down mood, or difficulties concentrating.

Between the pre- and post-migraine situations, it’s no wonder that many migraine sufferers have very few non-headache days in which they are free of pain and associated symptoms. Below is a common timeline of a migraine attack, which may help identify triggers, warning signs, and symptoms to help you better manage your migraine.


The prodrome period of a migraine is also called the “preheadache” or “premonitory” phase, according to the American Migraine Foundation. This early warning stage can occur between several hours up to several days before an attack. During this time, you may notice some subtle changes to your day-to-day life, including constipation, mood swings, food cravings, neck stiffness, increased thirst and urination, and frequent yawning, according to the Mayo Clinic. Other common symptoms may include light or sound sensitivities, fatigue, nausea, and difficulties concentrating or sleeping.

Tracking your symptoms and patterns during the prodrome phase may lessen the blow (or completely eradicate) the aura/headache phase of an attack. Taking preventive medications as advised by your doctor, avoiding triggers such as food cravings or bright lights, and even practicing meditative or relaxation therapies may be beneficial.


About one-quarter of migraine sufferers experience aura, according to the American Research Foundation, which usually occurs either before or during a migraine attack. As a distinct phase in the timeline, auras are symptoms of the nervous system, which usually cause visual (such as zigzag lines, blurry vision, or flashes of light), sensory (touch), motor (movement), or speech (verbal) disturbances. These might be accompanied by muscle or limb weakness as well.

These symptoms are often gradual, building up over several minutes and usually lasting between 20 to 60 minutes altogether (the American Migraine Foundation reports that about 20% of sufferers experience an aura phase lasting longer than 60 minutes). In those who experience aura, this phase is not always present, nor do auras always accompany a headache attack afterward. However, since this phase typically precedes attacks, it can serve as another warning sign to take the necessary steps to prevent an oncoming migraine.


A headache attack, with pain on one or both sides of the head, can typically last from several hours to up to three days if left untreated. Headaches vary from person to person and from incident to incident, and can range in severity, frequency, and treatment.

Therefore, it’s important to check with a doctor to determine which type of headache you have so that you can pursue the appropriate medications or therapies to treat your pain before or when it occurs.

Besides head pain, symptoms can include nausea and vomiting, sleep disturbances, anxiety, lightheadedness, blurred vision, and sensitivity to sound, light and smell. During a migraine headache, movement and daily activities may aggravate the symptoms.

Be sure to check out our Overview, Diagnosis, and Treatment pages.


After the headache phase, the “postdrome,” or “migraine hangover” period typically occurs. While this phase is different for every migraine sufferer, it does occur in approximately 80% of sufferers, according to the American Migraine Foundation. Symptoms of postdrome include fatigue, body aches, trouble concentrating, dizziness and sensitivity to light—all symptoms that can be just as debilitating as the headache phase.

Despite the end of the headache phase, people in postdrome can still benefit from avoiding triggers that aggravate headache, and some practices, such as yoga, staying hydrated, and avoiding stress, are good to start to begin relieving oneself of stress.

Track Your Symptoms and See Your Doctor

Understanding these phases of migraine may help you start a tracking “diary” that you can then share with your doctor. Recognizing the signs and phases before and after each attack may help you field a migraine off, or at least, lessen the severity of the attack.  Pattern changes and sudden severe headaches could signify a more serious medical problem that should be assessed by a doctor. See also the Association of Migraine Disorders.

Take our Headache and Migraine Quiz to see what type you may be experiencing.


-Additional reporting by Steven Aliano

Updated on: 06/15/20
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