How long can migraines last?
Migraines are one of the most common health conditions, affecting around 1 in every 5 women and 1 in every 15 men. Migraines can be triggered by a variety of causes such as stress, lack of sleep, caffeine consumption, and more.
If you’ve ever experienced a migraine, you are probably familiar with the symptoms: throbbing pain on one side of your head, often accompanied with sensitivity to light and/or noise, nausea, and weakness. These symptoms can be disruptive to your daily routine and difficult to deal with, leaving you to wonder how long they last.
According to the National Headache Foundation, a typical migraine attack lasts from 4 hours to 72 hours, but can vary widely as some people experience migraines lasting for up to 4 days. One of the most important factors towards migraine duration is how quickly you start treatment. For some, painkillers such as Ibuprofen or Paracetamol are helpful in reducing and stopping migraines. Staying away from loud noises and lights, and drinking plenty of water can also help. However, if you have frequent or very severe migraines, it is best to consult a healthcare provider to develop a treatment plan.
If your migraine is left untreated, it can worsen over time. Pain can shift from one side of your head to the other, migrate to the front or back of your head, or even feel like it’s affecting your whole head. It is recommended to see the doctor if you recognize new, unusual headaches, if it is happening in old age, or after your head is injured.
Since migraines occur in phases, it can be helpful to recognize the first stage (when a migraine attack is coming on) so you can take medication as recommended by your healthcare provider. It is also important to note that not every phase of migraine occurs during every attack. Therefore, keeping a migraine journal (either on paper or with an app) to record detailed notes of symptoms and times can help you and your physician find patterns and establish an effective treatment plan.
Below are the 4 phases of migraines:
- Prodrome - Scientifically known as the pre-headache condition, this phase comes before a migraine attack. The duration of the prodrome phase can vary from a couple of hours to an entire day. During this phase, you may have some early symptoms of an oncoming migraine such as irritability, sensitivity to light and/or sounds, and muscle weakness. Remember, avoiding migraine triggers can help to prevent a migraine attack, so during prodrome, it may be helpful to relax in a dark, quiet room and take medication preemptively.
- Aura - This is the second stage of a migraine. The duration of this phase can last from a couple of minutes to a whole hour and can appear right before the third stage of a migraine. During the Aura phase, you will see flashing and shimmering lights, geometric patterns, or spotted images. You may also experience blurry vision or even loss of vision. However, this phase does not always occur so it is not uncommon if you don’t experience it.
- Headache - The third stage of a migraine can be determined by throbbing or pulsing pain on one or both sides of the head. The degree of pain varies from person to person, as some may have mild pain while others have severe, debilitating pain. Nausea, inability to sleep, and sensitivity to noise, strong smells or light, are also common side effects that may occur along with pain. This extreme reactiveness to external factors can help pinpoint the headache phase.
- Postdrome - The last and the most common stage occurring after the attack of a migraine feels like a hangover. During this phase, you may remain very uncomfortable even if the headaches subside. The last migraine stage can be accompanied by body aches, dizziness, concentrating troubles, and sensitivity to harsh light.
If you are experiencing frequent migraines (5 times or more per month) or severe pain during any of the migraine phases, contact a specialist immediately for treatment. If left untreated, worsening symptoms will occur. You can start now by completing the migraine questionnaire on our website for a free consultation.