Remember your last migraine? Did it feel as if it might last forever?
When you’re experiencing severe head pain — possibly with accompanying nausea, vomiting, sensitivity to lights and sounds — it can certainly seem that way.
But how long does a typical migraine last? Is there such a thing as a “typical” length for a migraine?
The short answer: It's different for everyone. Symptoms of most migraines can last anywhere from 4 hours to 72 hours. In rare cases, they can even stick around for over a week. And a migraine can impact you both before and after head pain occurs, even in cases when that head pain is relatively brief.
Understanding what a migraine looks like — particularly what it looks like for you — can help you determine an average timeline for your episodes. When you know what to expect, you can better plan and manage your migraine relief measures.
Migraine is a common neurological disorder that typically features four main phases, each one of varying length. Collectively, these four phases are known as the migraine period.
Prodrome: This phase occurs prior to migraine pain and can last from one to 24 hours. Think of it as a warning signal of an oncoming migraine episode. Symptoms can vary from person to person, but you may experience persistent yawning, mood changes, food cravings, stiffness of the neck or other muscles, and frequent urination.
Aura: Between 15 and 25 percent of people who get migraines experience the aura phase five minutes to an hour or so before their migraine begins. Aura’s symptoms are mostly visual, such as blurred vision, blind spots in one or both eyes, flashing lights, or "patterned" lights such as dots or lines. Some people also experience non-visual symptoms, like numbness or tingling, dizziness, or hearing noises.
Headache: The attack phase is the most acute, with more than 90% of people experiencing symptoms severe enough to disrupt normal daily activities. Generally, this phase is characterized by severe headache — throbbing, pulsing pain on one or both sides of the head. Other migraine symptoms include increased sensitivity to light, sound, and smells; nausea or vomiting; lightheadedness; and vertigo. Pain may last anywhere from a few hours to several days.
Postdrome: Even when head pain dissipates, your migraine may not quite be over. Following the headache phase, about 80% of people experience postdrome, frequently described as a sort of “hangover” effect. Symptoms can last for 24-48 hours and may include trouble concentrating or comprehending things, muscle stiffness, fatigue, or sudden mood shifts.
With all four phases combined, most migraines tend to last no more than a few days.
A severe migraine — one in which the headache phase itself lasts more than 72 hours and doesn't respond to normal treatment — is known as intractable migraine. It can be medically concerning as symptoms such as prolonged vomiting can lead to dehydration. Seek emergency medical help if your migraine lasts longer than three days. Medical professionals can administer various prescription or intravenous drugs to help break the cycle of pain.
Though there is currently no cure for migraine, several options may help you avert or treat symptoms and perhaps shorten the migraine period. Home remedies include lifestyle changes such as avoiding common triggers, increasing water intake, exercising regularly, and getting more quality sleep.
Over-the-counter pain relievers, getting restful sleep, and staying hydrated may help alleviate migraine pain, as well as symptoms during the other phases of migraine. Particularly severe migraines can be treated with triptans and other prescription drugs.
Do you experience migraines fairly regularly? A very effective way to uncover the cause of your migraine episodes is through a DNA-guided treatment program that gives you a clearer picture of why and how your migraines occur. DNA-informed treatments provide an approach tailored to your genetics that works more quickly to treat or eliminate your migraine.
The headache specialists at Mable can help guide you through treatment, prevention, and lifestyle changes that could be a great fit for you! Take our quick and easy DNA quiz to find out.