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.
Other symptoms of a migraine include:
- feeling sick
- being sick
- poor concentration
- feeling very hot or very cold
- tummy pain
- 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".
- 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.
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.
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