Phases of Migraine Explained ! Techniques to Outsmart Your Migraine Headache

August 9th, 2012

There are 4 distinct phases to a migraine:  Prodromal (aka Premonitory), Aura, Pain and Postdrome

It is during the first two phases (prodromal and aura) that you get hints that a migraine is coming, and recognizing these hints (symptoms) may give you the edge you need to fight back and either prevent the migraine entirely or decrease the severity and or duration of the pain phase (which is obviously the most debilitating and problematic).

The Prodrome Stage – About 65% of migraine sufferers experience the prodrome phase. In the prodrome stage, sufferers experience emotional or physical symptoms two hours to two days before the pain phase starts.

These symptoms can occur in migraineurs with and without aura.

They are:

  • Fatigue
  • Yawning
  • Appetite changes
  • Altered mood – depression
  • Muscle Stiffness – especially in the neck
  • Appetite changes
  • Digestive changes – (some sufferers vomit up food they ate quite a while ago)
  • Irritability
  • Euphoria
  • Food cravings
  • Constipation
  • Diarrhea
  • Sensitivity to odors, noise and light
  • Increased urination

Physicians who specialize in migraine treatment find that only 30% of sufferers recognize that they have one or more of the “prodrome” symptoms until they are actually told what symptoms to look for. Once informed then up to 80% of sufferers report having one or more of them.

The Aura Stage – Less than half of migraine sufferers experience the aura stage. During this stage, about one-third of patients see flashing lights, wavy lines and blank spots in their field of vision (called scotoma) for a few minutes to a few hours before the pain stage begins. Some also have temporary trouble speaking or feel tingling or numbness on one side of the face or feet. (called parathesias). Others may develop a hypersensitivity to touch.

The Pain Stage – The onset of the pain stage can start within minutes or sometimes hours of the commencement of the aura stage. In addition to pain, nausea, vomiting, sensitivity to light (photophobia) sound (phonophobia) and movement may also be experienced.

The Postdrome Stage – During this stage of migraine, even though the pain is gone, some sufferers can feel exhausted, depressed and/or, residual neck pain.

What to try when you notice any of the symptoms in either the “prodrome” or “aura” phases.

If you haven’t realized it already, it is advantageous to experience either or both of these stages because they can both serve as a type of “advanced warning” system that a migraine is imminent.

It is to your advantage to try to address preventing your migraine as early as possible, so focus on the 13 symptoms listed in the prodromal section.

If you don’t experience any of these, but do experience the symptoms listed in the “aura” section, then that’s when you can start trying the following techniques to prevent your migraine from occurring:

TECHNIQUES TO TRY:  (None of these techniques work for everybody. You will need to experiment to see which of them help you the most.)

1-   H2O – Drink plenty of room temperature water to make sure you are well hydrated.

2-   BREATHE  – If you feel stressed, try meditating if you know how, or try these breathing exercises:

Stress Reducing-Breathing:
The depth and rate of our breathing respectively decrease and increase when we are stressed. This can deplete oxygen flow to the body and the brain. Please do this breathing exercise exactly as it is described at least 3 times a day:

Blow your breath out through your mouth and then seal your lips. Breathe in slowly through your nose for 10 seconds while expanding your chest. Hold it for 30 seconds while trying to think about “nothing”.

At the end of 30 seconds then slowly expel the breath you were holding, through your lips over a 15 second interval. Notice how your entire body relaxes throughout this breathing exercise especially during the exhalation segment.

Repeat this sequence at least 3 times in a row, working yourself up do doing it 5X in a row, three times a day.

Over time, as your body and brain relax and get used to this very effective breathing technique, you may want to increase the time you breathe in through you nose to 15 seconds, the time you hold your breath to 60 seconds and the time you exhale through your mouth to 30 seconds

Perhaps have someone massage you (if massage relaxes you.) Try taking a warm (not hot or cold) bath.

3-   ESSENTIAL OILS – Try applying either essential oils of peppermint or lavender to your temples, forehead and or neck. 2-3 drops is sufficient.  The side of the neck behind and below the ear is a good spot.

4-   IBUPROFEN – I am hesitant to suggest you consider taking any OTC or prescription medicines for pain based upon the symptoms of the prodrome phase because I don’t want people to medicate unnecessarily. (If you are pretty sure that one of the prodrome symptoms is a reliable indication that you are going to get a migraine that would be an exception).  But I do suggest trying either of these meds if you experience the symptoms of the aura phase.  I have seen just 200-400 mg of Ibuprofen help many people not only eliminate the aura but prevent the migraine too. (Of course you should confirm that it is OK taking any medication with your physician.)

5-    INCREASE MIGRELIEF DOSE – Though not clinically substantiated, anecdotal reports of MigreLief users taking an extra pill or two upon noticing any of the symptoms, have reported some benefits.  This is not totally surprising because a few studies have shown both feverfew and magnesium to not only prevent migraines but actually help to eliminate the pain of some migraines.

6-    GET OFF THE COMPUTER – Stop working on your computer.  The flickering or flashing lights of a computer screen is a trigger to some migraine sufferers.

7-   WALK –  If it’s not too hot or cold, get out and take a walk at a moderate pace for 10 minutes.

Please remember that none of the above suggestions works for everyone. You will have to experiment to see if one or more of these techniques works for you.

To learn more about successful migraine prevention, visit MigreLief.com

Curt Hendrix M.S. C.C.N. C.N.S.