It’s hard to find a more common and yet more debilitating affliction than migraines. Over 23 million people experience them. And although there are plenty of experimental treatments and preventative measures for migraine headaches — from vitamins to ear insufflation — there isn’t a reliable method to treat or prevent migraines. Doctors are still stumped on the exact cause of migraines, although research continues.
But for many, although the pain of a migraine headache can be debilitating, the period after the migraine can be miserable as well. This “migraine hangover” has a name: Postdrome. Postdrome afflicts a huge number of migraine sufferers, but is little-known despite its prevalence. This may be because after the excruciating experience of a migraine, the symptoms of postdrome can seem inconsequential — despite being just as much a part of a migraine as the more painful symptoms.
The Anatomy of a Migraine
There are four stages that can make up a migraine headache, although not everyone will experience every stage. The first stage, the “prodrome,” can include all kinds of crazy, seemingly unrelated possible symptoms, from yawning to cravings, and even including hot ears. This phase is the warning that a migraine is coming. It can take place hours or even days before a migraine attack.
Next comes the aura. This can come before the pain, or coincide with it. The aura phase can include visual symptoms like blind spots or flashing lights, or it can result in a feeling of pins and needles, nausea, or vertigo.
Then comes the phase we all identify as a migraine: Pain. This unbearable, throbbing pain is commonly accompanied by nausea and vomiting, and can include sensitivity to light, sound, or both. It can last as long as 72 hours — so it’s no wonder that the final phase rarely gets the spotlight.
Migraine’s Unpleasant Shadow
The postdrome, or “migraine hangover,” is the conclusion of a migraine attack. Since the pain of a migraine is a tough act to follow, the postdrome is little-known, and hasn’t received very much scientific attention or study.
Symptoms of postdrome are mild in relation to their precursors, but are still very noticeable and can keep sufferers from being able to work or go about their day as they normally would. Fatigues and weakness are common symptoms, as well as a feeling of lightheadedness or dizziness. Many report mood swings and trouble concentrating. Some even experience skin sensitivity, particularly on the scalp.
Although 70% of migraine sufferers report experiencing postdrome, there has been almost no research on it. In fact, the first studies on postdrome date no earlier than 2004. And the strangest part? Although many report the symptoms, there is no biological evidence of anything happening during postdrome. This makes postdrome yet another bizarre, inexplicable part of the migraine’s puzzle.
If you’ve never heard of postdrome, you might feel pressure to get back on your feet after the pain phase of your migraine is over. But if you’re still experiencing symptoms of postdrome, you’re still experiencing a migraine. Make sure to give yourself the time you need to fully recover before you get back to life as normal.