The 4 Stages of a Migraine

If you’re one of the 39 million Americans who suffers from migraine headaches, you know they can stop you in your tracks and shut down your day. They can last from a few hours to a few days and leave you feeling spent. But if you learn the warning signs of an oncoming migraine, you may be able to take medication that will stave off the worst of the pain, decrease its duration, and subdue the after-effects of the episode.

Dr. Mathew Stanley at American Rehabilitation Medicine in Cedar Rapids, Iowa helps many migraine sufferers understand their condition better, so they become more aware of their personal triggers and the unique markers that let them know a migraine is about to hit. 

The migraine timeline

Although no two migraines behave exactly the same, most people who suffer from these attacks can count on a few things to occur fairly consistently. That’s because migraines typically follow a timeline that includes four phases: prodrome, aura, headache, and postdrome.

These stages don’t happen every time or for everybody, but they offer a good framework for charting out your individual migraine patterns. Here are the four general phases of a migraine attack.

1. Prodrome

Think of the prodrome phase as the prelude to the upcoming main event. These signals can occur several hours, and even up to a few days, before the headache hits. If and when you experience the prodrome stage, you may notice symptoms such as:

It’s a good idea to keep a diary throughout the month with special attention to any of the symptoms on this list. If you’re one of the migraine sufferers who experiences these warning signs, writing down the patterns helps you predict what’s coming next so you can respond proactively.

2. Aura

Again, not all migraine sufferers experience the aura phase, but about a third do. If you’re one of them, you can expect some mild-to-severe vision disturbances, including:

The aura stage typically lasts about five minutes, but some people struggle through this phase for up to an hour or more. The visual impairment is temporary and may or may not progress to the next phase, which is the headache.

3. Headache or attack

The part of the migraine progression most people know is the headache. It's notorious for its intense pain on either one or both sides of the head. 

Unlike other types of headaches, migraines last for hours or even days. Although some are relatively mild, most people become unable to function. Migraine headaches, the 6th most prevalent illness in the world, are responsible for more than a million emergency room visits every year in the US, and more than four million people get attacks more than 15 times a month. When they finally subside, you find yourself in the postdrome stage.

4. Postdrome

The postdrome phase is often called a migraine hangover, because it feels a lot like a hangover from an alcoholic binge, including fatigue, body aches, and sensitivity to light.

But the migraine postdrome may also come with dizziness and trouble focusing on specific tasks. You may feel as if you’ve been through a battle and are left weak and depleted.

Whether or not you experience any or all of these migraine phases, the best way to manage your attacks is to keep track of what you feel leading up to and coming down from your headaches, including things that may trigger your attacks, like foods, smells, drinks, stress, etc.

Treatments that work for migraines

Migraines can’t be cured, but we can treat them before and during an episode to lessen the severity and frequency of your headaches.

Dr. Mathew administers Botox®, the injection known for smoothing out facial lines, because this FDA-approved treatment has been shown to prevent migraine headaches by blocking the chemicals in the brain that transmit pain messages. Injections take only about 15 minutes in our office and last for up to three months. People who suffer from chronic migraines (15 or more each month) report up to 50% fewer attacks when using Botox.

When medication is the most suitable treatment, Dr. Mathew steers clear of addictive opioids and opts instead for safe and effective drugs, like prochlorperazine, metoclopramide, or subcutaneous sumatriptan. When you’re having an acute attack, these medications can bring you significant relief and shorten the duration of your headache.

There’s no need to suffer from frequent or chronic migraines. Contact us today by phone at 319-369-7331, or by our online form to set up a consultation with Dr. Mathew and begin to take control of your migraines.

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