5 Sneaky Warning Signs A Migraine is Coming

Part of what makes migraines so challenging to diagnose is its shifty list of symptoms that appear to have nothing to do with the attack. In this post, I’ll discuss the top five sneaky warning signs that pain is on its way; however, this isn’t a complete list. They are just the most common and sneakiest I’ve seen over the last couple of decades working with migraineurs.

Warning Sign #1:  Phantom Smells and Other Sensory Signs

Have you ever been sitting alone in your house when you suddenly smell something strange? I knew a woman who regularly smelled cigarette smoke but had never been a smoker, nor did she live near anyone who smoked. Within a day of smelling the smoke, however, she would experience a migraine attack that would take her down for a couple of days. Sensory phantoms are a popular sign of an impending migraine, but they’re sneaky because there’s no telling how they’ll present.

When we think of migraine with aura, we usually think of visual disturbances; however, an aura can also be a smell or something you hear. It could also present as sensitivity to touch. While phantom smells are rare, they are distinctive in about 1% of migraineurs. When you smell something you know isn’t there, take it as a warning sign and activate your prevention plan.

Warning Sign #2:  Uncoordinated or Clumsy

Vestibular migraines come with a wide range of symptoms that may look like incoordination, but not quite the same. For instance, these types of migraines lead to dizziness, extreme fatigue, and visual changes; however, that doesn’t explain why you suddenly walked into a doorknob or drop everything you touch. For that, we need to consider basilar migraines.

The basilar artery supplies blood to the brainstem, specifically to areas that control balance. Basilar migraines can cause similar symptoms to its vestibular cousin, including:

·         Clumsiness

·         Hearing changes

·         Sensory changes

·         Slurred speech

·         Double vision

Warning Sign #3:  Swollen Eyelids and Other Visible Signs

The visible symptoms migraineurs experience can act as a warning system. You can see these physical changes happen in the mirror if you watch closely. You may witness your eyelids swelling, but you may also notice symptoms like:

·         Facial flushing

·         Droopiness of the face and eyes

·         Unexplained tears

·         Sweating

·         Puffy ears

These autonomic symptoms happen because of the glands that control involuntary functions like sweating and swelling. It is estimated that about 70% of migraineurs experience autonomic symptoms, but they vary so radically that it’s hard to know who will experience which symptom. Therefore, test yourself. If you start feeling strange, get in front of a mirror and begin to make a list of those sneaky signs that can be seen with the naked eye.

Warning Sign #4:  Food Cravings

That craving you get for a Snickers isn’t because of their ingenious marketing strategy that makes you think the candy bar will satisfy your hunger. It’s likely a warning sign that a migraine attack is coming.  Functional brain scans reveal a lot of activity in the hypothalamus during the prodrome phase. It’s the area of the brain that controls and regulates appetite and metabolism.

While it’s common for foods like chocolate and processed meats to act as triggers, it’s also possible that the craving is a sign the migraine process has already begun. A food diary can help you determine which is true for you. 

Warning Sign #5:  Neck Pain

There are a lot of nerves in the neck that lead to and from the brainstem, so it’s no wonder neck pain can be a warning sign. Symptoms can present as throbbing pain or stiffness, and other symptoms usually accompany it, like:

·         Irritability

·         Depression

·         Food cravings

·         Increased thirst

·         Excessive yawning

There are many ways the body tries to warn us of trouble. It’s essential to pay attention to your warning signs and act immediately with your preventive regimen. If you’re struggling to find a regimen that helps in both prevention and treatment, don’t hesitate to reach out to me. It’s important to get the right doctor in your corner, and that means working with someone who specializes in migraines and isn’t a pill pusher. I help people all around the world find their way through the migraine journey. I can help you get started.


American Migraine Foundation: Flushing, Drooping, Tearing, and Stuffiness

Verywell Health: An Overview of Vestibular Migraines

Spine Health: Neck Pain and Migraine Headaches

Reuters: Imagined Smells can Precede Migraines