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4 Ways to Cope With a Migraine ‘Hangover’

July 05, 2023

You have all the symptoms of a bad hangover – waking up foggy and miserable, noise sensitivity and maybe even a pounding headache.

Except…you didn’t drink last night. It turns out, a bad hangover doesn’t just come from alcohol – you can have one from migraine, too.

Residual symptoms can linger for 24 hours or more after pain lifts, says Katherine Podraza, MD, a headache specialist with the Hartford HealthCare Ayer Neuroscience Headache Center in Mystic.

“People refer to this as a ‘hangover,’ but it’s actually the last stage of their migraine attack. This is called postdrome – it means the attack isn’t over,” she says. “Not every migraine includes postdrome symptoms, but research estimates it happens about 80% of the time and can be debilitating.”

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There are 4 stages of migraine.

A migraine attack, Dr. Podraza notes, can have up to four stages:

  1. Prodome. This earliest part starts about 24 hours before the pain and can include fatigue, sensitivity to light or sound, nausea, yawning, trouble sleeping and mood changes.
  2. Aura. Lasting from minutes to an average of one hour, aura is a neurological symptom during a migraine attack. It consists of visual disturbances like flashing lights, sensory changes like numbness and tingling, or trouble getting words out. Not everyone has aura. Any time a headache has serious symptoms like this, especially if new, patients should be evaluated by a doctor to determine the cause.
  3. Headache. Lasting 4-72 hours, the pain phase varies from mild to severe pain, and can bring sensitivity to light, sound and smells. Some also have severe nausea and vomiting.
  4. Postdrome. Once the pain starts to resolve, many migraine sufferers still have lingering symptoms like fatigue, trouble concentrating and sensitivity to light and sound.

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And 4 ways to ease those “hangover” symptoms.

It’s important that each patient find what works best, but Dr. Podraza offers these tips to ease migraine postdrome symptoms:

  1. Stay hydrated. Opt for water, adding fruit slices for flavor.
  2. Rest. Try napping or relaxing with stretching or gentle yoga.
  3. Avoid screens. This and exposure to bright lights can be overstimulating for the brain.
  4. Try heat or ice. Apply whichever you prefer to your head during a flare up.

> Related: Your Migraine Could Be a Sign of One of These 7 Serious Health Conditions

By treating the migraine, you can avoid postdrome symptoms.

The best advice is finding effective ways to treat the migraine.

“This can help you prevent or stop migraine attacks in the first place. Appropriate treatment can help you feel better, but can also shorten or even stop migraine attacks early before the postdrome develops,” Dr. Podraza says.

In addition to medication to prevent migraine attacks and to take once a migraine has started to make it stop, try:

  • Stress-reduction techniques like mindfulness meditation.
  • Exercising regularly.
  • Sleeping 7-8 hours each night.
  • Following a healthy diet, avoiding skipped meals and too much caffeine.
  • Reducing overstimulation from bright lights or loud sounds.
  • Trying green light therapy or neuromodulating devices that calm the overly sensitive brain networks that can trigger migraine.

“Migraine is often misunderstood and underdiagnosed. There’s still a lot of misconception about them and how bad they can be,” Dr. Podraza says. “The stigma can lead people suffer with diminished quality of life because the disorder isn’t treated as aggressively as it should be.”

Ayer Neuroscience Institute