What are the typical characteristics of migraine headache?

Updated: Oct 01, 2021
  • Author: Jasvinder Chawla, MD, MBA; Chief Editor: Helmi L Lutsep, MD  more...
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Migraine attacks commonly occur when the migraineur is awake, although an attack may have already started by the time the individual wakes. Less commonly, it may awaken the patient at night.

The typical migraine headache is throbbing or pulsatile. However, more than 50% of people who suffer from migraines report nonthrobbing pain at some time during the attack.

The headache is initially unilateral and localized in the frontotemporal and ocular area, but pain can be felt anywhere around the head or neck. The pain typically builds up over a period of 1–2 hours, progressing posteriorly and becoming diffuse.

The headache typically lasts from 4–72 hours. Among females, more than two thirds of patients report attacks lasting longer than 24 hours.

Pain intensity is moderate to severe and intensifies with movement or physical activity. Many patients prefer to lie quietly in a dark room. The pain usually subsides gradually within a day and after a period of sleep. Most patients report feeling tired and weak after the attack.

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