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Symptoms - Migraine

The main symptom of a migraine is usually an intense headache on one side of the head.

The pain is usually a moderate or severe throbbing sensation that gets worse when you move. It can prevent you carrying out normal activities.

Sometimes, the pain can be on both sides of your head. It may also affect your face or neck.

Additional symptoms

Other symptoms of a migraine include:

  • feeling sick
  • being sick
  • sweating
  • poor concentration
  • feeling very hot or very cold
  • tummy pain
  • diarrhoea
  • increased sensitivity to light and sound

Not everyone with a migraine has these other symptoms. Some people have them without having a headache.

The symptoms of a migraine usually last between 4 hours and 3 days. You may feel very tired for up to a week.

Symptoms of aura

About 1 in 3 people with migraines get warning symptoms before a migraine. This is called "aura".

These include:

  • visual problems – such as seeing flashing lights, zig-zag patterns or blind spots
  • numbness or a tingling sensation like pins and needles – starting in 1 hand and moving up your arm before affecting your face, lips and tongue
  • feeling dizzy or off balance
  • difficulty speaking
  • loss of consciousness – this is unusual

Aura symptoms can develop over about 5 minutes and last for up to an hour.

Some people may have aura followed by only a mild headache or no headache at all.

When to contact your GP

Non-urgent advice: Contact your GP if:

  • you have frequent or severe migraine symptoms that you cannot manage with over-the-counter painkillers

Try not to use the maximum dosage of painkillers often. This could make it harder to treat headaches over time.

You should contact your GP if you have frequent migraines even if you can manage them with medicine. Frequent migraines means a migraine on more than 5 days a month. Preventative treatment may help you.

Emergency action required: Call 112 or 999 and ask for an ambulance immediately if:

you or someone you're with has:

  • paralysis or weakness in one or both arms, or one side of the face
  • slurred or garbled speech
  • a sudden very painful headache resulting in a severe pain unlike anything you've had before
  • headache along with a high temperature (fever), stiff neck, mental confusion, seizures, double vision and a rash

These symptoms may be a sign of a more serious condition and should seen by a doctor as soon as possible.

Find out more about diagnosing migraines

Stages of a migraine

Migraines often develop in different stages. But not everyone goes through all of these.

Prodromal (pre-headache) stage

Changes in mood, energy levels, behaviour and appetite that can happen several hours or days before an attack.


Visual problems, such as flashes of light or blind spots, that can last between 5 minutes and an hour.

Headache stage

A pulsating or throbbing pain on 1 side of the head, often accompanied by feeling sick, vomiting or extreme sensitivity to bright light and loud sounds. This stage can last for 4 to 72 hours.

Resolution stage

When the headache and other symptoms fade away, you may feel tired for a few days afterwards.

Content supplied by the NHS and adapted for Ireland by the HSE

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This project has received funding from the Government of Ireland’s Sláintecare Integration Fund 2019 under Grant Agreement Number 123.

Page last reviewed: 26 March 2021
Next review due: 26 March 2024