Migraine timeline, stages, duration and recovery

Migraine is a neurological disorder that can cause moderate to severe headache, sensitivity to light, nausea, and other symptoms. Each migraine episode has different stages.

Understanding the stages of a migraine episode can help a person manage the condition and find effective treatments. These can prevent symptoms or keep them from getting worse.

Below we examine the time frame of a migraine episode, how long it can last, and when you should contact a doctor.

Migraine is a neurological disorder that typically causes moderate to severe headaches and other recurring symptoms.

Episodes can occur uncommonly in a condition called episodic migraine, or very often, called chronic migraine.

During a migraine episode, a person may experience sensitivity to light or noise, nausea, and vomiting.

Migraines are three times more common in women than men. However, the rates are roughly the same in children of different sexes. Scientists believe that levels of female sex hormones that rise during puberty play a role in the differences between adults.

The four stages of migraines are: prodrome, aura, headache and postdrome. However, an episode may not include all phases.


This is the first stage of a migraine episode. It can start hours or days before the headache and can include:

  • Yawning or feeling tired
  • Difficulty concentrating, reading, or speaking
  • unexplained mood swings
  • depression
  • aching
  • Sensitivity to light or sound
  • Cravings
  • increased urination
  • Constipation or diarrhea

For some, these symptoms are difficult to spot because they can be caused by so many other factors, such as lack of sleep or stress. However, if a person recognizes the early signs of a migraine headache, they can take preventative steps.

One person could try:

  • preventive drugs
  • Avoid migraine triggers if possible
  • Relaxation techniques like meditation

Learn more about migraine medications and home remedies.


About 25% of people with migraines experience aura. The aura phase can occur just before or during a headache. It can include:

  • Visual disturbances, such as seeing zigzag lines or flashes of light
  • Hearing disorders, such as hearing a sound, possibly a ringing that is not there
  • physical sensations such as numbness, tingling, or muscle weakness
  • Speech disorders, such as difficulty finding or understanding words

The aura phase can last 60 minutes or more and overlap with the headache phase.

Learn more about the migraine aura.


As a migraine episode progresses to the headache stage, the pain usually starts gradually and gets worse. It eventually climaxes and dissolves.

The intensity and location of the pain can vary, but it often begins on one side of the head. It can spread or spread to other areas as the episode progresses. The pain can get worse with physical activity.

At this stage, a person may also experience:

  • Nausea
  • Vomit
  • Sensitivity to light, noise, or smells

It is also possible to experience migraines without a headache. This is informally known as a silent migraine.

Taking medication to relieve pain may help at this stage. But people often find that drugs are most effective in the early stages.


This is the final stage of a migraine episode, and some call it a migraine hangover. This phase can take up to 1-2 days. About 80% of people with migraines suffer from it.

A person can feel:

  • weak
  • exhausted
  • confused
  • dizzy
  • achey

Some people also report euphoria or intense relief after a migraine episode.

The headache stage can last anywhere from 4 to 72 hours without medical attention, although it can be longer.

If an episode lasts longer than 3 days, the doctor may use medication to refer to it as status migrainosus. This phenomenon is a complication of migraines, and experts aren’t sure why it happens. Another name for the condition is persistent migraines.

The doctor may recommend changes to an existing migraine treatment plan or, in some cases, a visit to a hospital. Doctors can use strong medications to stop the pain of a persistent migraine headache. These drugs can include dexamethasone or nerve blocking drugs.

Recovery time may depend on whether a person has postdrome or migraine hangover symptoms. People who do this may take 1-2 days to fully recover once the headache subsides. Others can recover more quickly.

People with postdrome symptoms can benefit from these strategies:

  • stay hydrated
  • Avoid bright lights and strong smells
  • Trying out relaxation techniques such as gentle yoga or meditation
  • Avoid stress if possible

If a migraine headache persists for more than 72 hours without responding to normal migraine medications, the person may need additional treatment. Anyone who has had this pain for more than 3 days should speak to a doctor as soon as possible.

Many other health problems can cause headaches, so getting a professional diagnosis is important. Anyone experiencing migraine symptoms for the first time should see a doctor.

Additionally, anyone who has at least four migraine episodes – or one episode that leads to disability – in a month should get professional help.

A doctor can diagnose chronic migraines if a person has had a headache for 15 days or more per month, of which at least 8 days meet the criteria for migraine.

There are many different migraine treatments available. Some can prevent symptoms and others can stop them.

Some headaches signal the need for immediate treatment. If any of the following happens to a person, immediately call 911 or the local emergency number:

  • sudden severe headache with the worst pain ever
  • Headache in addition to paralysis, snagging on one side of the face, difficulty speaking, or sudden blurred vision
  • Headache with a stiff neck, rash, muscle or joint pain, or fever

Migraine is a complex neurological disorder that can cause recurring headaches and other symptoms. A migraine episode can have four stages.

The headache stage can last about 4-72 hours. After the pain improves, the person may experience a migraine hangover, which can cause fatigue, muscle pain, and confusion.

Anyone experiencing migraine symptoms or debilitating symptoms for the first time should see a doctor. Many preventive and abortive treatments are available.