What is Migraine?

Breaking down migraine

Migraine impacts 1 in 8 people—most prevalent in people between the ages of 18 and 44. Women are three times more likely to have migraine than men.

What is Migraine?

Migraine is a neurological condition that can cause intense pain on one or both sides of the head for 4 to 72 hours. It is a recurring type of headache. But unlike other headaches, the pain often includes:

Throbbing or pulsing
Pain in the temples or behind one eye or ear
Light and sound sensitivity

Types of migraine

There are two common types of migraine: with aura and without aura. Aura is a phase of a migraine attack when people may see flashes of light, have blind spots, or feel tingling in their hands or face.

How migraine can disrupt your life

The number of migraine attacks people experience per month depends on the individual. Typically, people with migraine experience an average of two attacks a month.

While each person experiences migraine differently, the impact almost always disrupts their everyday life. The pain, nausea, and sensitivity make it difficult to function normally — which can affect work, school, and your family and social life.

What are the common stages of migraine?

People with migraine can experience many different symptoms, which often occur within four stages of a migraine attack.

1. Prodrome

The first stage of a migraine can start as early as 24 hours before you get an attack. Common signs and symptoms of prodrome can include:

  • Food cravings
  • Mood changes
  • Uncontrollable yawning
  • Difficulty concentrating
2. Aura

10 to 30 minutes prior to an attack, some people experience the aura phase. Aura may also occur during the headache phase of an attack. These symptoms may include:

  • Seeing bright or flashing lights or zig-zag lines
  • Feeling tingling or numbness in the hands or face
3. Headache

Stage three is what most people consider the attack itself. Migraine attacks typically start gradually and become more intense over time. Common symptoms in this stage include:

  • Throbbing or pulsing pain, commonly on one side of the head
  • Pain behind the eye or in the back of the head and neck
  • Increased sensitivity to light, noise, and odors
  • Nausea and vomiting
4. Postdrome

The state following the headache, postdrome can last up to two days after a migraine attack. Symptoms may include:

  • Fatigue
  • Joyful mood
  • Depressed mood

What causes migraine?

What causes migraine isn’t really clear, but genetics and environment do play a role. You may be more likely to have migraines if it's part of your family history.

In addition, many researchers believe that a possible cause of migraine pain is related to a protein called calcitonin gene-related peptide (CGRP). When the brain releases CGRPs, they attach to receptors and cause nerve inflammation — starting a migraine attack.

Migraine triggers

What triggers a migraine attack is unique to each person, and can be brought on by a single trigger or a combination of triggers. This may even lead to avoiding situations out of fear that a trigger could cause an attack.

There are four major migraine triggers to be aware of: travel, weather changes, stress and menstruation. In addition, too much or too little sleep, physical exhaustion, certain foods and alcohol, and bright and flashing lights can trigger an attack.

You may be able to prevent certain triggers from causing your next migraine attack.
learn more about triggers

Treating Migraine

Learn about the range of available migraine treatments.

explore treatment options

Need more resources?

The American Migraine Foundation provides global access to information and resources on migraine. They also support important research toward treatment advances, as well as patient support and advocacy.
The National Headache Foundation is driven by the vision of a world without headache to provide advocacy, research, awareness, and education for headache pain and the people who experience it.
The Association of Migraine Disorders is devoted to expanding the understanding of migraine and its full spectrum of symptoms. This goal is supported by their podcasts, symposiums, awareness campaign, and comprehensive research initiative.