The symptoms of a migraine sound straightforward enough: An attack often includes throbbing head pain, sometimes localized to one side, which can be accompanied by sensitivity to light, sounds or smells, nausea or vomiting and blurred vision. But the reality can be hard to put into words, especially since the experience can vary by person, and may include other stages aside from the actual attack, including a prodrome signaling an oncoming migraine (symptoms can include irritability, food cravings and depression) and an aura, which produces nervous system symptoms (most commonly visual changes such as flashing lights), the Mayo Clinic reports. (Check out what a simulated aura looks like here.)
So how to explain what a migraine feels like to curious loved ones and friends? "If you've never had one, imagine a friend who is trying to work through a hangover," says Jason Rosenberg, M.D., director of the Johns Hopkins Headache Center in Maryland (and a migraineur himself). "Imagine that occurring at the least convenient times."
"Like my brain is exploding, someone took a baseball bat and beat the base of my skull and neck with it, and there's an ice pick jabbed into my right eye and temple."
-Melissa Kerley via Facebook
"Like a vice around my head, with stabbing behind my ears and pressure behind my eyes. Pull the shades, lie down, don't move."
-Linda Christopher via Facebook
"It's like having your head compressed by a two-ton brick while someone hits your temple with a hammer at random intervals."
-Emma Gray, Senior Editor, HuffPost Women
"Like your brain is trying to forcefully come out of your skull and the pain throbs with each heart beat ... Right eye and temple. Every time."
-Patty Cook, via Facebook
"I believe they are all different. Mine begin when I lose peripheral vision and then become nauseous. My vision then returns only to have the pain start. It's an intense pain that makes you just want to apply constant direct pressure to a specific part on your head to relieve it. It's painful to even open your eyes. I hate when people say 'you have a headache.' No, it's much more than that."
-Darcee Krieger Mora, via Facebook
"Like being hit in the head by a semi. Or having your head compressed by thousands of cubic feet of water."
"Starts with a small sparkling aura that keeps getting larger until it takes my vision. Then about 30 minutes later my vision is returns, but then I have a headache that throbs with every movement of my head, which lasts for 5 days. Then life goes back to normal until the next one hits."
-Love Angels, via Facebook
"Horrible throbbing pain over my left eye making me throw up."
"First my fingers and lips go numb, as if I've had a novocaine shot. It's not quite as painful as the pins and needles feeling, but it's similar. Then, my vision starts to blur, usually just on one side. The blurriness and finger numbness are usually both worth on the same side. This continues for about 30 minutes. Then the headache starts. It's not necessarily the worst pain I've felt in my life, but it's the scariest."
-Sarah Klein, Senior Editor, HuffPost Healthy Living
"Like a jackhammer going off inside the brain."
-WM Laissue, via Facebook
"The headaches usually start with a dull ache under one of my eyes, and slowly build into an intense throb that eventually feels like my brain is too big for my skull. Every light and sound is amplified, and I often feel nauseous in a carsick-in-the-backseat kind of way. When an aura precedes an attack, it starts with a blind spot in my right eye and then builds into a colorful, blinking zigzag line traveling across my vision in various patterns."
-Laura Schocker, Executive Editor, HuffPost Healthy Living
"Thunder and lightning inside of your head combined with a serious need to toss your cookies."
"Someone placed a nail at one side of [your] head and hitting it in short intervals."
"I always say it's like an ice pick piercing my temple -- excruciatingly painful!!"
"When a migraine is building up in me, I inevitably find that I just can't think. I don't become delusional or manic or confused or even numb; I'm just incapable of finishing a coherent sentence in my brain, much less in my mouth. But what comes next -- the true migraine -- makes this seem laughably pleasant. A full-on migraine makes me feel like my head is being run over by a train; the wheel and the track crush the narrow strip of flesh between my left eye and my left ear (always that same strip), filling it with agonizing, pulsating pressure. Every bright spot of light and every minor sound sets the entire back of my head on edge. The source of the noise or light becomes irritating and aggravating to me beyond anything else I ever experience. When I'm in the grip of a really bad one -- one of those terrible, soul-crushing ones that comes around once a year or so -- I almost always think, 'There's nothing I wouldn't give up to make this go away right now.' I literally don't wish it on my worst enemies."
-Joe Satran, Staff Writer, HuffPost Food
"Your brain/eyeballs are throbbing & your head might explode if you're not [lying] down in a pitch black, silent room."