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Migraines, you hear about them how painful and debilitating they can be, but for someone who has never had one, they don’t understand the difference between a normal headache and a migraine. For someone who has migraines they can go on forever disorienting the person with nausea, headaches, dizziness, confusion and several more symptoms. Migraines for many people are so bad they have to stay at home with the blinds closed in bed until the migraine symptoms pass. So what is a migraine and why is so bad?

Migraines are considered a neurological syndrome or attack that is characterized by altered bodily perception, headaches and nausea. Unfortunately, as if the pain of migraine isn’t enough, migraines have four phases that can last from 4 hours up to 72 hours. Not every person who suffers from migraines goes through each phase of a migraine and each migraine attack can be a different component of a migraine.

The four phases of a migraine are the prodrome, aura, headache and postdrome. The prodrome can occur hours or days before a migraine attack. The aura immediately precedes the migraine. The headache or pain phase as it is known is self-explanatory. And the postdrome follows the migraine.

The prodrome or the time before a migraine occurs can start days or only hours before. The prodrome is a warning to signify a migraine is coming on. Only about 40% of people who get migraines experience a prodrome. However, when a prodrome occurs it also gives the person a chance to abort a migraine attack before it happens. Symptoms that are associated with the prodrome include constipation, diarrhea, mood changes, depression, irritability, muscle stiffness, food cravings, fatigue, yawning and increased urination.

The aura immediately precedes the migraine and sometimes can occur on its own without a migraine. The aura phase normally occurs over 5-20 minutes lasting no longer than 60 minutes. The aura is a focal neurological phenomenon that includes a wide array of symptoms from visual to olfactory, paresthesia, aphasia, paralysis, auditory and allodynia. Only about 25% of people with migraines experience the aura phase. Because most of the symptoms are visual, this phase can be scary, disturbing, and terrifying especially when experiencing it for the first time. Other symptoms include flashing lights, wavy lines, spots, blurred vision, smelly odors, pins and needles, numbness, difficulty speaking, confusion, dizziness, hearing things, loss of hearing, reduced sensation, hypersensitivity, and flashes of light.

As if the first two phases weren’t enough the pain or headache phase is normally the most incapacitating. Headaches are normally on one side but can span the whole bodies length. The onset is usually gradual and builds to a peak and then subsides. The headache can last any where from 1 to 3 days in length. Everyone’s symptoms are different in the way that they appear and some may experience different symptoms than others. Headaches are normally accompanied by nausea and vomiting and symptoms are worsened by physical activity. Additional symptoms include increased sensitivity to light, sound and odors, diarrhea and constipation, congestion or runny nose, depression, anxiety, hot flashes or the chills, vertigo, confusion, and dehydration.

The postdrome are the hours following a headache. Some people take longer than others to recover but most feel tired, run down or have a hungover feeling.  This is normally accompanied by head pain, cognitive difficulties, gastrointestinal symptoms, mood changes, weakness, depression, euphoria, and fatigue. Some people feel refreshed while others feel depressed. There is no way to tell how you will feel after going through that. When people experience the aura without the headache it is normal to experience the postdrome as well.

Now that you understand what a migraine is and what can occur throughout the migraine attack, it is easier to support and aid someone who sufferers from migraines. Remember that not everyone experiences all the phases of a migraine but even experience symptoms from just one of the phases seems like a great deal of pain to go through. Be thankful if you don’t experience migraine headaches because about 6-8% of men and 15-17% of women experience migraine headaches.