We're all familiar with migraine's classic symptoms−pain, nausea, light and sound sensitivity and irritability. Once the pain is finally over, however, many sufferers still have hours and days of disabling symptoms to deal with. It's called migraine postdrome and for many migraine sufferers, it's almost as frustrating as the migraine itself.

Migraines have four phases, though not all sufferers have symptoms at every phase.

  • Prodrome phase - This can happen hours or days before a migraine strikes and might include symptoms including intestinal disturbance, sleepiness, fatigue, irritability, yawning, sound and light sensitivity, food cravings, loss of appetite and others.
  • Aura phase - Visual, sensory, motor or speech and hearing disturbances may happen 15 minutes to an hour before migraine for many sufferers. While most auras are visual (wavy lines, shimmering or flashing lights, blind spots, tunnel vision), some auras present as speech disorders, weakness, numbness or tingling and confusion.
  • Headache phase - Classic migraine symptoms include severe head pain (often one-sided and pounding), nausea, vomiting, light and sound sensitivity, muscle pain and other symptoms. This can last several hours to several days.
  • Postdrome phase - Once the headache is gone, this phase marks the resolution part of a migraine. Not everyone experiences postdrome symptoms, but countless people say they feel "out of it" for quite a while after their migraine finally quits. Symptoms are sometimes described as flu-like or similar to a hangover and include fatigue, confusion, aches and pains, queasiness and difficulty functioning in normal activities. There's not much research that explains why sufferers feel so bad at this phase of a migraine.

Manage Your Postdrome Symptoms

The best way to manage postdrome symptoms is to prevent migraines from happening at all. If you can identify your migraine triggers (certain foods, smells, chemicals or weather conditions, for example), you may be able to avoid them and prevent a migraine from attacking. Frequent migraine sufferers also prevent migraines by taking medications including low-dose antidepressants, hormonal contraceptives or beta-blockers prescribed by their physicians. At the first sign a migraine is coming, medications that block or short-circuit the worst symptoms are effective for many migraine sufferers. When none of that works however, migraines can be treated with prescription migraine and/or pain medications, rest in a dark, quiet room and time to let the attack pass.

As for postdrome symptoms:

  • Aches and pains can be treated with over-the-counter pain medication like acetaminophen or ibuprofen.
  • Caffeine in coffee or tea may help with the fatigue and lack of concentration.
  • Exercise may increase circulation and distribute oxygen to the entire body, which may help the brain "reboot" after a migraine attack.

Perhaps the best way deal with the postdrome phase is to do what your body asks of you: Rest. But considering the migraine itself takes so much time out of your life, we know it's hard to take more time to recover. When possible, downsize your workload or work from home. Let your coworkers or family know you're under the weather and try to make up missed work when you're feeling back to normal.

Dr. Liesa Harte, M.D. reviewed this article.
Functional Medicine Founder, Elite Care