Migraine warning signs

A National Migraine Centre factsheet

Migraine alarm bells: our top eight migraine warning signs to watch out for!

The migraine warning signs

Before a headache begins, there can be plenty of warning signs of a migraine during the initial ‘prodrome’ phase, which could begin between a few hours to a day before the attack.

Here’s our top eight headache warning signs.

1. Lights and sensory disturbance

Of all the warning signs before a migraine headache, visual disturbances or sensitivity to light are perhaps most common.

These symptoms are part of the ‘aura’. Around 20 to 25 per cent of those with migraine get an aura before or sometimes during a migraine attack.

Some of the common signs are:

  • Blind/coloured spots
  • Blurred vision
  • Tunnel vision
  • Zig-zag lines
  • Flashing lights
  • Temporary blindness
  • Watery eyes

They start with a small blurry blob like I’ve got something in my eye, this then expands to glittery aura.

Our factsheet on migraine with aura might be helpful if you have get visual disturbances as part of your migraine attacks.

2. Yawning

Yawning is a common prodromal migraine warning sign symptom, but it’s not always easy to realise it’s connected to the onset of migraine.

I can’t stop yawning but it took me years before I realised a connection.

3. Mood changes

Some people who suffer from migraines can sense a change in their mood or behaviour as an early headache warning sign. These changes can be either quite drastic or subtle and sometimes relatives or friends notice them first!

You could feel:

  • irritated
  • annoyed
  • very happy or sad
  • excited or hyperactive
  • confused
  • anxious
  • depressed
  • panicked

I get an overwhelming panicky, anxiety feeling, then an aura that grows and grows then the pressure and pain.

Depression and anxiety are three times more common in people who suffer from migraine. If you do find these symptoms troublesome or persistent, consult with your GP or headache specialist.

4. Gut issues

Many people with migraine tend to get a sensitive stomach before an attack. They can feel cramps, nausea, constipated or have diarrhoea. This is due to the irritation of the nervous system that controls the gut. Stomach emptying becomes less efficient and this results in slower absorption of medication, as well as leading to nausea and sometimes vomiting.

Codeine can aggravate gut issues and worsen migraine.

My stomach goes funny. I feel constipated and light-headed.

5. Speech difficulties

Many report slurred speech or difficulty in speaking as a warning sign of migraine. This can be part of the aura phase. Some people struggle to find the words they want to say.

Usually, the first sign is I start stuttering and become really clumsy, then the aura appears and the yawning.

6. Food cravings

Migraine can make you crave particular foods, especially carbohydrates and sweets. Some people believe that chocolate or sweets trigger their migraine, but it may be much more likely that the early stage of migraine triggers the craving for chocolate or something sweet.
For more information read our Migraine and food factsheet.

I crave sweet stuff and start to feel lethargic.

7. Muscle stiffness

Muscle stiffness, particularly neck pains, are top of the list for many people with migraine. The pain can be around the neck and shoulders.

Some feel that their neck pains cause migraines, but neck pains or muscle stiffness could simply be another warning sign of migraines.

You may feel that your migraines are in the base of your neck, or that an attack radiates from the neck. Some people also feel the pain in their face, around the sinus areas.

Neck ache like I’ve slept funny is my very first sign. Then my brain goes funny and I can’t think straight.

8. Increased thirst and urination

If you see an increase in thirst or a need to urinate more often, it could be sign of a migraine attack. This is often a part of the prodrome phase and can be an early warning that a migraine is coming.

I am really thirsty the day before and can’t stop yawning when I’m not tired.

What to do next

So those are our top eight early signs of a migraine attack. A lot of these signs could also be an indication of other medical conditions, so it’s important to speak to your GP or a headache specialist about them, especially if they are new.

A migraine diary is the best way to keep a track of these warning signs, as well as your common triggers. Record the details of symptoms, pain scores and also medication taken, in a migraine diary. You can use our migraine diary here.

Using your diary, you may be able to see a pattern, which can help you to use medication early and potentially avoid, or at least lessen the impact of, the attack.

Book an appointment with the experts: talk through your symptoms with a leading headache specialist. Beat the misery of migraine and get back to living. Book your consultation through the National Migraine Centre now.

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