10 Signs You’re Having A Migraine

signs you're having a migraine
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Did you know one in four households includes someone who has migraines? Do you or someone you love suffer from migraines? Or maybe you’ve had a terrible headache, but were unsure whether it was a migraine or just a killer headache?

I’d like to help you answer some of these questions by sharing my experience with migraines and possible signs you’re having a migraine.

What is a Migraine?

Although the migraine condition is not fully understood, we know that it is a “complex condition” which usually includes an extremely painful headache, along with other possible symptoms.

A genetic mutation is associated with migraines. This is why they often run in families.

Environmental conditions also seem to contribute to migraines.

Researchers believe that during a migraine the levels of serotonin fall. Serotonin is a chemical in the brain that regulates pain.

My First Migraine

I was first diagnosed with migraines at the tender age of 21.

It was a busy time in my life because I was studying to become an Elementary Education teacher. I had also recently married the love of my life (sappy, I know), David . We were busy settling into our little blue house with our little black dachshund named Cocoa, who we bought from the Humane Society.

The Aura

One day when I was busy Student Teaching a big class of active 1st graders, I suddenly started seeing flashing lights and had blind spots in my field of vision. We were doing an activity in which the children were writing letters and words in shaving cream on their desks. I remember the scent of the cream was overwhelming and painful to my senses.

After 30 minutes or so I could see more clearly, but my head hurt like it had never hurt before.

It felt like something was clamping down around my head and squeezing so hard I couldn’t focus.

And the fluorescent lights were unbearable! I found myself squinting, trying to block out the light.

Then I started feeling nauseous and told my cooperating teacher I didn’t feel well and went to the restroom. I threw up and tried returning to class despite having no relief in symptoms.

Grateful For Kind People

Thankfully, I had such an amazing cooperative teacher. Her friend next door (who I later found out suffered from recurring migraines) coaxed me to rest, took me to a vacant room and pulled the shades down so it was dark.

I so appreciated their care and concern over me that day.

It was a scary experience because I’d never felt that way before.

Later, they encouraged me to see a doctor. The doctor said it sounded like I was having migraines. He prescribed a migraine medication in case I had another one.

He also asked me to keep a migraine diary to record all the days I was having migraines, the symptoms I was feeling and share what I was doing or eating beforehand.


All of this helped me and the doctor figure out what my triggers (things that set off a migraine) were, and to this day, most of them are the same:

  •  fluorescent lights (not good for someone going into the teaching profession, as most schools at that time had this type of lights)
  • heavy or unnatural smells
  • skipping meals 
  • stress or being overly busy
  • change in sleep patterns or lack of sleep
  • hormones

Migraines Can Be Unpredictable At Times

From reading about my first migraine, you most likely picked up on some of the unusual symptoms I was having.

I want to share more about how to know if you are having a migraine or not. Please keep in mind that symptoms are different for everyone, but typically affect the sensory system.

Also, just because you experience a certain symptom with one migraine episode, doesn’t mean you’ll always have that same symptom. Generally speaking, my migraine symptoms are similar each time. But, I’ve experienced other symptoms, such as tingling in my face or limbs, just a few times.

I hope it will help you or someone you love find answers. I urge you to schedule an appointment with your doctor if you’re experiencing some of these signs.

10 Signs You’re Having a Migraine

  1. Sensitivity to smell – About half of migraine sufferers experience this. Smells are so intense for these people that they are often overwhelming and cause nausea.
  2. Numbness or tingling of the limbs – During a migraine, the sensory system is on overdrive. The tingling or numb feeling is often on one side of the body and can spread from an arm or leg to the face (1).
  3. Aura – This happens when one experiences blind spots or sees flashing lights. For me, this is usually the first sign that I’m getting a migraine. It usually lasts about 30 minutes and that gives me enough time to down a cup of coffee, close the shades (or put on dark sunglasses), apply peppermint essential oil to my forehead and take my migraine medication. If I wait past this point to take my medicine, the migraine symptoms are usually much more intense.
  4. Feeling like the room is spinning – If you’ve ever experienced vertigo, then you know what this feels like. You feel off-balance and out of kilter. You want to lay down, but even if you do the feeling might not stop (2).
  5. Nausea and/or vomiting – This is a very common symptom of migraine, but could also be caused by something else, like a stomach bug. Like the other symptoms, this might occur with every migraine or not at all for you. I’ve experienced this symptom with 100% of my migraines.
  6. Movement makes the pain worse – Routine activities such as walking or standing up can intensity the pain.
  7. Difficulty speaking – This is one of those unusual symptoms which is often frightening because it’s also associated with strokes.
  8. Yawning – Yes, it’s weird but true. Yawning more often than usual is sometimes a clue that you you’re getting a migraine.
  9. Throbbing pain on one or both sides of the head – Many migraine sufferers experience the pain on the same side of their head every time they get a migraine, while for others it varies.
  10. Sensitivity to light – Many people want to get in a dark, quiet room because even a small amount of light tells your optic nerve to turn on the pain receptors. This is such a strong reaction that in a 2010 study, even people who were blind experienced increased pain due to light (3).

The Takeaway

While this list is not all-inclusive, I’ve highlighted some of the most common signs of migraine, as opposed to simple headache. I hope you found this useful and would love to hear from you about your migraine experiences.

You may want to read 10 Effective Treatments For Migraines to learn more about how you can prevent them.

CoQ10 Reduces Migraine Frequency

A recent study published in Neurology found that taking supplemental CoQ10 reduced the frequency of migraines 27%. CoQ10 has many other benefits, such as preventing cancer.

Have you ever experienced any of the above symptoms? If you have migraines, what are your common signs? 

Leave your comments below in the comment section.

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  1. Timing of this article was perfect! Just this past weekend I experienced a headache like nothing I’ve ever felt before. I wasn’t sure if it was a migraine, or maybe just a severe headache. After reading your piece I don’t know that it was a migraine. I did have the sensitivity to light and nausea, but I didn’t have the sensitivity to smells or auras. I hope to never go through it again, but if I do I will pay attention to the signs you mention. Thanks for sharing!

    1. Hi there Mrs. F! I’m so happy you visited the site. 🙂

      I’m glad the article came at a good time for you! I’m sorry that you had such a terrible headache (or migraine). Praying you never have to go through that again either.

      If you would like to do some more reading, https://migraine.com/migraine-tools/ is a great resource that has tools and quizzes that people can take when they’re not sure whether they’re having migraines or not. Then, if your results suggest it might have been a migraine you can decide if you want to follow up with your doctor.

      I’m planning to do a follow-up article soon about different treatments for migraines, including both holistic and pharmaceutical therapies.

      Thank you for sharing your experience. I hope you come back to visit soon!

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