A migraine usually feels like a very bad headache with a throbbing pain on 1 side. It's common and there are things you can try to help.
Check if it's a migraine
A migraine tends to be a very bad headache with a throbbing pain on 1 side of the head.
You may get other symptoms just before a migraine, such as:
- feeling very tired and yawning a lot
- craving certain foods or feeling thirsty
- changes in your mood
- a stiff neck
- peeing more
You may also get warning signs you're about to have a migraine (called an aura), such as:
- problems with your sight, such as seeing zigzag lines or flashing lights
- numbness or a tingling that feels like pins and needles
- feeling dizzy
- difficulty speaking
Aura symptoms should not last for longer than an hour.
There are different types of migraine with different symptoms.
No warning signs
Migraine without aura
Warning signs like seeing zigzag lines, numbness or tingling, feeling dizzy or difficulty speaking just before the migraine starts
Migraine with aura
Symptoms like flashing lights, but no headache
Migraine aura without headache (silent migraine)
Migraines usually last between 2 hours and 3 days, with some symptoms (such as feeling very tired) starting up to 2 days before the head pain starts and finishing after the headache stops.
Some people have migraines several times a week, while others do not have them very often.
Most people find their migraines slowly get better as they get older.
Non-urgent advice: See a GP if:
- your migraines are severe or getting worse, or lasting longer than usual
- you have migraines more than once a week
- you're finding it difficult to control your migraines
What we mean by severe pain
- Severe pain:
- always there and so bad it's hard to think or talk
- you cannot sleep
- it's very hard to move, get out of bed, go to the bathroom, wash or dress
- Moderate pain:
- always there
- makes it hard to concentrate or sleep
- you can manage to get up, wash or dress
- Mild pain:
- comes and goes
- is annoying but does not stop you doing daily activities
Urgent advice: Ask for an urgent GP appointment or get help from NHS 111 if:
You have a migraine and:
- it's lasted longer than 72 hours
- aura symptoms last longer than an hour at a time
- you're pregnant or just had a baby
You can call 111 or get help from 111 online.
Immediate action required: Call 999 if you or your child:
- have a headache that came on suddenly and is extremely painful
- have problems speaking or remembering things
- lose your vision or have blurred or double vision
- feel drowsy or confused
- have a seizure or fit
- have a very high temperature and symptoms of meningitis
- cannot move or have weakness in the arms or legs on 1 side of your body, or 1 side of your face
Treatment for migraines
Migraine treatments include:
- painkillers such as ibuprofen and paracetamol
- medicines called triptans
- medicines that stop you feeling sick or being sick
You may have to try a combination of medicines before you find something that works.
A GP may also recommend making changes to your lifestyle to help manage your migraines, such as eating at regular times and drinking less caffeine.
If your migraines are severe, you might be offered other things to help, such as learning relaxation techniques and acupuncture.
If these treatments do not manage your migraines or they're getting worse, you may be referred to a specialist for further tests and treatment.
Try not to take high doses of painkillers too often as this could make it harder to treat your migraines.
Causes of migraines
It's not known what causes migraines.
You're more likely to get them if you have a close family member who gets them.
Some people find certain triggers can cause migraines, such as:
- starting their period
- anxiety and depression
- stress and tiredness
- not eating regularly or skipping meals
- too much caffeine
- not getting enough exercise
It can help to keep a migraine diary to help you work out what might trigger your migraines.
Things you can do to ease or reduce migraines
There are things you can do yourself to manage your migraines, with help and advice from a GP.
try sleeping or lying down in a darkened room during a migraine
try to avoid things you know trigger your migraines, such as certain foods
stay well hydrated and limit how much caffeine and alcohol you drink
try to keep to a healthy weight
eat meals at regular times
get regular exercise
get plenty of sleep
try to manage your stress
Find out more
Migraines affect 6 million people in the UK. Identifying and avoiding the things that trigger migraines is an important part of managing them, says Dr Dawn Harper.
Media review due: 1 July 2023
Page last reviewed: 15 September 2022
Next review due: 15 September 2025