Top 10 Signs of a Migraine that Aren’t a Headache


It should come as no surprise that the symptom that migraines are infamous for is a severe, throbbing headache.  The headache of a migraine episode can be debilitating. It causes a throbbing or pulsating pain, usually on one side of the head. In addition, it includes a host of other symptoms. A migraine is actually a neurological event of which a headache is only one feature. What non-migraineurs may not be aware of is the list of other symptoms of a migraine episode.

Everyone experiences an episode a little differently and may not have all of these symptoms during an episode.  Even from one attack to the next, a migraine may present differently for the same person.

What is Causing my Migraines?

There are no definitive answers as to the exact mechanism behind why a migraine develops.  Some research suggests that they begin in the brainstem, the “primitive” part of the central nervous system that controls your body’s basic life-sustaining functions, such as pain response, breathing, and processing of sensory information.  If the brainstem begins to function abnormally, it can trigger a series of neurological events that can explain a migraine episode’s cluster of symptoms. Once an attack begins, it is believed that the pain and additional symptoms of migraine occur due to an inflammatory process involving blood vessels, meninges (the thin layer of tissue that covers the brain, brainstem, and spinal cord, and the trigeminal nerve (the 5th cranial nerve that branches off of the brainstem).  

What are the Other Common Symptoms of a Migraine Attack?

To begin to dispel the myth that a migraine is simply a really bad headache, take a look at the following symptoms that a migraine sufferer might experience as an episode unfolds:

Mood changes

Migraineurs may start to notice shifts in their mood as one of the earliest signs of an approaching attack.  Depression, anxiety, irritability, crankiness, and hyperactivity are some of the most common mood changes that can begin early and linger on for hours or days after the headache has subsided.


Sleep disturbances such as insomnia are another symptom that migraine sufferers experience

Nausea or vomiting

Nausea or vomiting may occur for several reasons.  Sometimes, the severe nature of the pain can be enough to provoke nausea.  Other migraine sufferers may also experience vertigo or dizziness that can lead to nausea or vomiting.

Neck pain

Neck pain and stiffness is an extremely common complaint of migraine sufferers.  For some, the throbbing sensation of a headache can extend down the back of the head to the base of the skull and upper part of the neck.  Other areas that may be tender or uncomfortable can be the jaw, shoulders, and even the gums or teeth.

Heightened senses

A person may become extremely sensitive to smells (I.e. perfumes, chemicals, foods, etc.), light, and sound during an episode.  This is part of the reason why many migraine sufferers prefer to be in a quiet, dark room for the duration of an attack.

Nasal congestion 

A runny or stuffy nose that might seem to come on out of nowhere can be a sign that a migraine episode is beginning.

GI symptoms

Migraine sufferers can become constipated or have diarrhea in conjunction with an episode.  They may also feel the need to urinate more frequently.

Cognitive changes

Confusion, difficulty concentrating, forgetting words, and temporary memory issues can occur either before, during, or after a migraine attack.

Visual disturbances

Changes in vision that happen during a migraine episode are usually referred to as an aura or the aura phase.  Unusual visual symptoms can appear as flashes of light, tunnel vision, blind spots, floaters, dots, or spots in your vision, or wavy lines.

Food cravings

Many migraine sufferers will experience cravings for certain foods, particularly carbohydrates, before the onset of the headache phase.  Interestingly, chocolate is commonly thought of as a migraine-triggering food, some researchers believe that the craving for chocolate might be one of the earliest signs that a migraine attack is about to occur.

The Role of the Upper Cervical Spine in Natural Migraine Care

Above, we talked about the role the brainstem plays in the development of a migraine.  Ensuring proper brainstem function is a big piece of the puzzle for migraineurs who are looking to find lasting relief.  The connection lies in the upper cervical spine. As the brainstem exits from the base of the skull and transitions into the spinal cord, it is protected by the uppermost vertebra in the neck – the atlas (C1).  Normal atlas alignment is not optional when it comes to normal brainstem function; these two concepts go hand in hand.

The atlas can misalign due to an injury (I.e. car accident, slip, and fall, sports injury, etc.) or wear and tear that occurs over time.  This will inevitably start to have a negative influence on the brainstem as nerves and tissues are subject to irritation and inflammation, including the trigeminal nerve which is thought of as a major player in migraine attacks.  An atlas misalignment can also hinder normal blood flow between the head and neck via the vertebral arteries as well as disrupt the flow of cerebrospinal fluid. Any of these factors alone can cause problems, and when combined, can easily lead to the many symptoms of a migraine.

Upper Cervical Chiropractic Care

Therefore, the solution to this problem is to seek out the care of a chiropractor who specializes in upper cervical care.  Upper cervical chiropractors analyze and correct these very subtle misalignments in the most precise and gentle way possible.  Many migraineurs under upper cervical care get phenomenal results, including the reduction of the severity and frequency of their attacks.

Certainly, learning more is easy. Browse our website and use the search feature to locate a practitioner in your area. A consultation might just be the step that gets you back to feeling and living better.



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The content and materials provided in this web site are for informational and educational purposes only and are not intended to supplement or comprise a medical diagnosis or other professional opinion, or to be used in lieu of a consultation with a physician or competent health care professional for medical diagnosis and/or treatment. All content and materials including research papers, case studies and testimonials summarizing patients' responses to care are intended for educational purposes only and do not imply a guarantee of benefit. Individual results may vary, depending upon several factors including age of the patient, severity of the condition, severity of the spinal injury, and duration of time the condition has been present.