Migraine Hangover

There’s a distinct migraine phase with its own symptoms that begins when your head pain ends

For people who do not have migraine, the worst “headache” they ever experience may be the one that accompanies their hangover after a night of heavy drinking. A migraine hangover is much more complicated—it is a distinct phase in a migraine attack that begins once peak head pain dissipates. It symptoms can closely resemble the hallmarks of a typical “hangover,” like fatigue, dehydration, body aches and mental “fogginess.” For many, the effects of a migraine hangover may be just as debilitating as the period of head pain that precedes it.

The Migraine Hangover

The entire body can be affected during a migraine attack, not just the head. From abdominal issues to cognitive impairment to sensitivity to touch, the malfunctioning of several bodily functions can wreak havoc on your entire system. The medical term for a migraine hangover is postdrome, which is the fourth and final phase of a migraine attack. It can take days or even weeks to transition through all four phases.

Timeline of a Migraine Attack

For those having a severe migraine episode, the shift from headache to postdrome can be difficult to identify. The pain can manifest itself into areas of the body not previously affected: stiffness in the neck and shoulders, tenderness in the scalp and dizziness are common “migraine hangover” symptoms.

Everyone experiences the postdrome phase differently: it does not necessarily occur in everyone with migraine, nor does it happen after every attack. These inconsistencies can be confusing, and often cause “migraine hangover” to be mistaken for a different medical condition.

Reducing the Risk of Migraine Hangover

Migraine hangovers can be reduced, or better managed, by maintaining good headache hygiene. When consistently practiced, these preventative measures can reduce the severity and length of a migraine hangover.

Stay well hydrated throughout all four phases of a migraine. While it can seem daunting, getting out of bed, stretching or very light activities can help the healing process. Avoiding factors which exacerbate the symptoms is important, and avoiding overstimulation may hasten the pace of recovery.

Caffeine during the prodrome phase can have a positive effect for some people, but others find it makes their symptoms worse. Many find comfort food, ice packs, heating pads, massages and additional rest helps to soothe their migraine hangover. Ignoring or pushing through the effects of the postdrome phase doesn’t give the body necessary time to recover, and can increase the risk of having another attack. Take it easy and rest during this time.

Seeking Treatment

Prevention is the key to avoiding a prolonged migraine hangover, and in managing your migraine health on a daily basis. Maintaining a headache diary will help you track your symptoms and their changes during the prodrome, aura, headache and postdrome phases, which can help you identify patterns, like behaviors or foods correspond with your attacks, helping you reduce your exposure to triggers. Working with a headache specialist will help you better understand your migraine, find medications that may relieve some symptoms and obtain a better understanding of your unique headache disorder and how best to treat it.

You can find a headache specialist using the American Migraine Foundation’s Find a Doctor tool. AMF also maintains a comprehensive resource library full of fact sheets, toolkits and advice sourced directly from the nation’s leading migraine specialists to help you take control of your migraine.