This article will give you 10 signs you're having a migraine to help you determine whether your pain is caused by a headache or a migraine.

10 Signs You’re Having A Migraine

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Last Updated on January 3, 2021 by Lori Geurin

Did you know one in four households has a family member who suffers from migraines? Maybe you or someone you love can relate to this. Or perhaps you’ve had some terrible headaches, but weren’t sure if they were truly migraines or not. Today I’d like to help you answer some of these questions by sharing from experience and offering 10 signs that can show 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 play a part. Researchers believe that during a migraine the levels of serotonin fall. Serotonin is a chemical in the brain that regulates pain.

My First Migraine

Most people start getting migraines between the ages of 10 and 40. I was first diagnosed with them at the 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 David, the love of my life. We were busy settling into our little blue house with our little black dachshund, Cocoa, we adopted from the Humane Society.

The Migraine 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 started to 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 nauseated 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 cooperating teacher. Her friend next door (who I later learned suffered from recurring migraines) encouraged 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 for me that day. It was a scary experience because I’d never felt that way before.

Later, they encouraged me to see a doctor. When I visited the doctor, he said it sounded like I was having migraines. He prescribed a migraine medication for when I had another one. He also asked me to keep a migraine diary to record every time I had a migraine, the symptoms and what I was doing or eating beforehand.

Related: Migraine Buddy: THE App For People With Migraines

This article will give you 10 signs you're having a migraine to help you determine whether your pain is caused by a headache or a migraine.

Migraine Triggers

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 or certain foods
  • stress or being overly busy
  • a change in sleep patterns or lack of sleep
  • hormonal changes

Migraines Can Be Unpredictable

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

Now, let’s dig deeper to find out 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 impact the sensory system.

Also, just because you have a certain symptom with one migraine episode it 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 and numbness in my face and limbs, a few times too.

I hope this will help you or someone you love find the answers you’re searching for. I urge you to meet with your doctor if you’re experiencing the signs below.

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 many times overwhelming and cause nausea.

2. Numbness Or Tingling Of The Limbs

During a migraine, the sensory system is in 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 you have blind spots or see flashing lights. For me, this is usually the first sign that I’m getting a migraine. It usually lasts about 30 minutes; 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. Feel 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 may not stop (2).

5. Nausea And/Or Vomiting 

This is a very common symptom of a migraine, but could also be caused by something else, like a stomach bug. Like the other symptoms, this may occur with every migraine or not at all. I’ve had this symptom with 100% of my migraines.

6. Movement Makes The Pain Worse 

Routine activities such as walking or standing up can intensify the pain.

7. Difficulty Speaking 

This is one of those unusual symptoms which can be frightening because it’s also associated with strokes.

8. Yawning 

Yes, it’s weird but true. Yawning can be a clue that you’re getting a migraine.

9. Throbbing Pain On One Or Both Sides Of The Head 

Many migraine sufferers experience 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).

This article will give you 10 signs you're having a migraine to help you determine whether your pain is caused by a headache or a migraine.

Summary – Signs You’re Having A Migraine

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

Also interesting, a recent study published in Neurology found that taking supplemental CoQ10 reduced the frequency of migraines by 27%. CoQ10 has many other benefits as well, such as preventing cancer. And I’ve found that taking Magnesium Citrate is an effective preventative as well.

This is the Magnesium Citrate that I take daily.


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 so we can all learn from each other.


For more information about migraines you’ll want to read: 

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2 thoughts on “10 Signs You’re Having A Migraine”

  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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