Find the answers to commonly asked questions about our clinic and what you can expect from a consultation.View all frequently asked questions
A National Migraine Centre factsheet
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.
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:
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.
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:
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.
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.
Our factsheets provide general information only. They are not intended to amount to medical advice on which you should rely or to advocate or recommend the purchase of any product or endorse or guarantee the credentials or appropriateness of any health care provider. No material within our factsheets is intended to be a substitute for medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. You must obtain professional or specialist advice before taking, or refraining from, any action on the basis of the content on our factsheets. Do not begin a new medical regimen, or ignore the advice of a medical professional, as a result of information contained within these factsheets, our website or from any of the websites to which we may link. Although we make reasonable efforts to update the information on our factsheets, we make no representations, warranties or guarantees, whether express or implied that the content on our factsheets and website is accurate, complete or up to date. Any hyperlinks or references are provided for your convenience & information only. We have no control over third party websites and accept no legal responsibility for any content, material or information contained in them. The information provided in this factsheet does not constitute any form of legal advice and should not be treated as a substitute for specific legal advice. It is not intended to be relied upon by you in making (or refraining from making) any specific decisions. We strongly recommend that you obtain professional legal advice from a qualified solicitor before taking or refraining from taking any action. You may print off, and download extracts, of any page(s) from our website for your personal use and you may draw the attention of others within your organisation to content posted on our site. You must not modify the paper or digital copies of any materials you have printed off or downloaded in any way, and you must not use any illustrations, photographs, video or audio sequences or any graphics separately from any accompanying text. You may not, except with our express written permission, distribute or commercially exploit the content.
© 2022 National Migraine Centre. All rights reserved. Registered charity no: 1115935. Company limited by guarantee (England and Wales) no: 05846538.
Expert factsheets, free resources and headache diaries: trusted information on all aspects of headache and migraine, produced by leading doctors.Check out our range of factsheets