Neurological Symptoms of Migraine Headaches

By Genevieve Van Wyden

  • Overview

    Migraine headaches can literally sideline sufferers, not only because of the intense pain, gastric symptoms and sensitivity, but because other symptoms can be quite severe and frightening. For migraine patients, the disruption to their work and home lives can be significant, especially if they experience attacks frequently. Migraines, with our without complications, can force the sufferer to take sick leave or miss school and retreat to a quiet, dark room until the worst of the pain has subsided. Even after the pain has ended, the sufferer is left with a lack of energy and, possibly depression.
  • Physical

    Suffers of migraine headaches describe intense, pounding and throbbing pain, either on both sides of their heads, one side, around an eye or at the back of their heads. Sometimes (although not always), sufferers also experience nausea and vomiting. Other symptoms can be sensitivity to light and sound. Patients describe warning signs (premonitory signs) such as sleepiness or food cravings in the days before they experience the physical onset of the headache. Immediately before a headache starts, patients can experience "auras" such as flashing lights in front of their eyes or a blind spot in their field of vision. At times, these auras strike at the same time as the headache. Some experience auditory (hearing) hallucinations or unusual tastes and/or smells. Migraine headaches can last for as little as four hours or as long as 72 hours.
  • Mental

    Before and after a migraine, a patient can experience depression, irritability or even euphoria. Some patients report a "pins and needles" sensation in their legs or arms before they get sick with a migraine. Some sufferers even experience difficulty in thinking and completing tasks or school/work assignments after a migraine has ended.

  • Emotional

    Migraine headaches can cause emotional disturbances in sufferers. Just after a headache, sufferers can experience lethargy and a low-grade headache (a headache which is not as severe as the migraine, but still present). The sensitivity to light and sound can continue; in the period immediately following a migraine, the sufferer can experience another migraine.
  • Unusual Symptoms

    Migraines can be complicated by neurological dysfunctions. Symptoms of this kind of "complicated migraine" include fainting and dizziness or vertigo. Some patients' symptoms can cause temporary paralysis or weakness on one side of the body, which can look like a stroke. Fortunately, these symptoms go away, but they can be frightening to the patient and his family.
  • Warning

    If a migraine sufferer reports severe headaches persistently only on one side of his head, he needs to undergo specialized testing to rule out other neurological conditions such as brain tumor. "True" migraine headaches which occur on one side of the head will move to the other side of the head in a subsequent attack. If you or a family member experiences exclusively one-sided migraine headaches, talk to your doctor and ask for further tests. If you experience symptoms of "complicated migraines" as listed in an earlier section, again, speak with your doctor and ask if you can obtain relief from these manifestations.
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