How Long Can a Migraine Last?

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Author Name: Lucas Cook
Date: Friday March 1, 2024

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Migraines are much more than a headache. They’re an entire host of symptoms that may include dizziness, nausea and visual disturbances that prevent you from doing your daily tasks. How long can a migraine last? 

Unfortunately, it’s impossible to give a precise timeline — but you have clues based on research and other people’s experiences. This disorder is complex, comes in various types and can result from multiple causes, as much as the symptoms look similar. How long will your pain last? Let’s examine the typical migraine. 

How Long Does a Typical Migraine Last? 

Most migraines last for several hours. However, there are various stages to an attack that can last up to three days. Rarely, migraines will last longer, although people who experience this often have a more rare, complex form of the disorder. 

1. The Stages of a Typical Migraine 

A typical migraine goes through four distinct phases in most sufferers. Here’s what you can expect from each one. 

  • Prodrome: This stage typically occurs a day or two before the whopper hits. You may feel vaguely “off,” feel more irritable or euphoric than usual, experience strange food cravings, neck stiffness, increased thirst and urination and excessive yawning. 
  • Aura: This phase occurs right before the pain hits. It can include anything from visual disturbances, dizziness, a pins-and-needles sensation, weakness or even paralysis on one side of the body, difficulty speaking, uncontrollable jerking motions and mild auditory hallucinations. 
  • Attack: During this stage, you may experience intense, throbbing pain, especially behind one eye or on one side of the head, grow nauseous, vomit, get dizzy or lightheaded and become sensitive to light, touch and sound. In rare cases, you may lose consciousness — if this occurs, please seek medical attention. 
  • Postdrome: As the pain subsides, you feel debilitating fatigue, confusion, brain fog and a general sense of being “not quite there.” This stage can last for a day or two before you feel normal. 

Migraines are the second-leading cause of disability worldwide. Those who experience them understand why — it’s often impossible to drive or work when an attack occurs. Some people have multiple episodes a month, greatly interfering with their quality of life. 

2. What Are Some Common Migraine Triggers? 

Migraine triggers vary from person to person. For example, one individual may do fine with chocolate, while a mere whiff of the stuff sends another into an attack. However, here are some common precipitating factors

  • Stress
  • Changes in schedule, especially those that impact sleep
  • Hormones
  • Bruxism or teeth-grinding
  • Weather changes
  • Dehydration 
  • Medication overuse
  • Alcohol and caffeine
  • Bright light exposure
  • Certain smells 
  • Certain foods — chocolate, MSG, nightshade foods, dairy, artificial sweeteners or prepared meats are frequent triggers for some. 

What Is Atypical Migraine? 

Sometimes, an atypical migraine can last longer than a traditional attack. Other times, you have symptoms that may come and go, with or without associated head pain. While it’s beyond the scope of this article to take an in-depth look at atypical migraine, here are some types you should know about:

  • Hemiplegic migraine: This variation results in partial paralysis, which typically reverses after an attack subsides. Those with this subtype may experience facial dropping typical of stroke. It’s urgent to seek medical care, as minutes count if you are dealing with the latter. 
  • Migraine with brainstem aura: Formerly called basilar migraines, this type is similar to hemiplegic migraine without the associated weakness. Movements may become uncoordinated, and vertigo and slurred speech may occur. 
  • Abdominal migraine: Although these typically strike children who may go on to develop another migraine type as adults, abdominal migraines can occur at any age. You may get nauseous, develop a stomach ache, lose your appetite and grow pale without the associated headache. 
  • Ocular migraine: These create the stereotypical visual disturbances without head pain. You may feel as if you see kaleidoscopes, dancing or flashing lights or experience blind spots. 
  • Vestibular migraines: This form of migraine causes you to lose your balance and fall. It can also cause auditory hallucinations. 

What Is Status Migrainosis? 

Occasionally, a migraine can last longer than a week. Status migrainosis refers to any migraine that lasts longer than 72 hours. How long can it last? Sometimes, for life. 

Treating this type of migraine presents special challenges. Those who experience status migrainosis run a high risk of medical trauma, as even professionals may suspect — or outright accuse — them of exaggerating their symptoms. Many try treatment after treatment without success. 

Unfortunately, status migrainosis can lead to isolation and mental health problems. Those with this condition often must make significant lifestyle changes, such as reducing their work hours, telecommuting or leaving the workforce altogether. While they can thrive with support, the invisible nature of their illness often leads to issues relating to others who doubt their experience.

When Should You Seek Emergency Migraine Treatment? 

Fortunately, most migraines disappear on their own within 72 hours. All you need to do is wait it out in a dark room, tending to your comfort and taking pain medication as you are able to stomach it. However, some situations warrant a visit to the ER. 

You should seek medical attention for any migraine that feels like the “worst pain ever,” as it could be a sign of a stroke. Likewise, attacks that result in lack of consciousness or partial paralysis also warrant emergency treatment because of the stroke risk. If it is a stroke, doctors must administer some medications within the first four and a half hours, so please don’t delay. 

Home Remedies for Migraine 

Now that you know how long a migraine lasts, you still crave faster relief. Although these home remedies might not entirely alleviate your symptoms, they can make you feel better. Here’s what to do if an attack strikes:

  • Supplements: Riboflavin or vitamin B2 and magnesium help some people. Some migraine sufferers take these regularly as preventatives. 
  • Herbs: Butterbur, ginger, lavender and peppermint work for some. You can sip tea, take a supplement or topically apply an essential oil roller. 
  • Caffeine: A hot cup of joe might be your best migraine relief, thanks to its ability to narrow your blood vessels. 
  • Cold compresses: A cool rag across the forehead or over your eyes can feel heavenly. 
  • Acupuncture or acupressure: Although driving to an appointment might be inadvisable on sunny days when the light stabs your eyes, acupressure can offer home relief. Pressing the webbing between your thumb and index finger works for some. Others include your third eye and the sides of your nose. 
  • Exercise: Although it might be the last thing you want to do, working up a sweat can sometimes help — if you are able. 
  • Relaxation: Meditation, gentle yin or restorative yoga or mindfulness-based stress reduction can sometimes bring relief. 

How Long Can a Migraine Last?

A migraine typically lasts a few hours to days. However, sometimes, they can be longer or shorter, especially if you have an atypical type. 

Although most migraines disappear on their own, you should seek medical care for any migraine that lasts more than 72 hours. Otherwise, try one of the above home remedies or rest quietly and wait for the storm to pass. 

Updated on March 1, 2024

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