Migraine is a very common condition that lots of people around the world suffer from. If you get migraines, you’ll know that they involve a very severe throbbing headache, alongside other symptoms such as nausea, vomiting and increased sensitivity to light and sound. But did you know that you can suffer from a migraine hangover too?
If you’ve ever had a hangover feeling after a migraine, this may sound familiar to you. In this guide, we'll be looking at the ‘migraine hangover’ — also known as the migraine postdrome phase — in more detail, including symptoms, migraine hangover length, and treatment options.
To read more about migraines generally, head to the dedicated migraine guides section of The Independent Pharmacy website. Alternatively, if you have questions about migraines and treatment options available, visit our migraine FAQs section.
What is a migraine hangover?
A migraine hangover, or postdrome phase, is the fourth phase of a migraine experience.
Migraines have four distinct phases:
- Prodrome phase: this occurs a few hours to a couple of days before the main migraine attack. Prodromal symptoms generally include mood changes (such as irritability), energy levels changing, problems concentrating and brain fog, changes to appetite (such as food cravings), muscle stiffness, nausea and insomnia.
- Aura phase: this stage comes immediately before a migraine attack — usually around five minutes to an hour before it begins. The aura phase includes visual symptoms such as blind spots in the vision, or flashes of light, which may be accompanied by numbness and tingling (like pins and needles).
- Headache phase (migraine attack): also known as the ‘pain phase’, this is the main phase of a migraine — made up of painful headache symptoms which include a throbbing, severe headache, intense sensitivity to light and sound, nausea, vomiting, insomnia, congestion and more. This stage may last any length of time between a couple of hours to three days.
- Postdrome phase: as the headache or pain phase subsides, you might experience this fourth phase — the migraine hangover. Symptoms include feeling drained, decreased energy, dizziness, weakness and more (we will go into these in more detail below).
Not everyone will experience all of these phases, and they may also vary with each migraine attack.
However, many people do experience the postdrome phase, which occurs once the pain phase has ended. This is the fourth and final stage of a migraine attack. It can feel very much like a hangover after drinking alcohol, leaving you feeling drained as your body takes the time to recover.
Migraine postdrome symptoms
Everyone experiences the migraine postdrome phase differently (and some people who get migraines won’t experience it at all). If you do experience the postdrome stage, it may vary each time depending on the severity and length of your attack, so it can be difficult to identify.
However, there are some more common symptoms that are associated with the migraine hangover, or postdrome phase.
During the postdrome phase of migraine, you might experience one or more of the following symptoms:
- Feeling tired or fatigue
- Residual discomfort or pain in your head
- Trouble concentrating and lack of attention-span
- Mood changes
- Feeling down or depressed
- Body aches and pains
- Neck stiffness
- Light and/or noise sensitivity
- Feeling hungry or thirsty
You can see why the postdrome phase is called the “migraine hangover” — many of the symptoms are very similar to a hangover. Most migraine patients report feeling one or more of these symptoms after a migraine attack.
This after-migraine hangover typically lasts for around a day or two after the attack ends.
Postdrome and depression
Depression and low mood can be a symptom of the postdrome phase of migraine.
It isn’t known exactly why this is — we still don’t know a lot about migraines themselves and why they happen, which is also the case with the migraine postdrome.
We do know that people who get migraines are more likely to have both depression and anxiety. These — alongside other emotional and psychological factors such as stress and shock — can also be migraine triggers. It may be that during the postdrome phase when you are feeling tired, drained of energy and low in mood, which makes you more susceptible to feelings of depression. However, it may also be down to neurochemical changes or activity in the brain that we have not discovered yet.
Migraines are very complex and there are a lot of factors both known and unknown that experts don’t yet know about.
Postdrome phase length
Postdrome phase length can vary from person to person. It can also change each time you have a migraine attack.
However, the postdrome phase usually lasts between one and two days after the pain phase/main attack has finished.
According to this study, the average postdrome lasts for 25.2 hours.
Unfortunately, there isn’t anything you can do to shorten the length of time that the postdrome phase lasts for. However, there are ways that you can ease migraine hangover symptoms and relieve pain.
How to manage postdrome symptoms
If you are suffering from unpleasant symptoms during the postdrome stage of migraine, there are a few things you can do:
- Get plenty of rest: migraines can take a lot of your energy, so try to give yourself time after a migraine to recover. Try to get lots of rest, sleep and nap if you can. Don’t push yourself too hard, and try to avoid trying yourself out with anything non-essential.
- Use a cold compress or heating pad: this can help to relieve aches and pains, and any neck stiffness you may have.
- Limit your exposure to bright light: try to avoid bright screens such as your computer or TV, or any harsh lights which may affect you while you are still sensitive to light. If you need to use a computer for work, consider adjusting the monitor settings to avoid hurting your eyes too much.
- Drink lots of water: your body needs to stay hydrated, so make sure you drink plenty of water during the postdrome phase. This is especially important if you’ve been vomiting during your migraine attack.
- Eat well: food can help you feel more energised after a migraine. Try to eat a balance with plenty of protein. You may need to avoid any strong flavours if you are still feeling nauseous.
These are some of the ways you can manage postdrome symptoms while you recover from a migraine.
You may also want to use some pain relief medication to help you feel more comfortable. Many people use painkillers to treat and prevent a migraine hangover. We will go into some of the options for migraine treatment in the section below.
Migraine postdrome treatment
Unfortunately, there is currently no cure for migraines or migraine hangovers. However, there are a number of treatments available which can help with the postdrome symptoms of a migraine.
Some people may find that over-the-counter pain relief like Aspirin is enough to relieve migraine hangover symptoms. These can help with general body aches and pains, neck stiffness, or any mild discomfort you feel during this period.
If simple painkillers do not work to relieve symptoms, there are other, stronger options available. At The Independent Pharmacy, we offer a range of different treatments such as:
- Maxalt Melt 10mg Wafers: a type of 'triptan' medicine that provides effective relief from migraine attacks, and comes in the form of a wafer that you put on your tongue.
- Migraleve Yellow Tablets: a powerful treatment that contains two painkillers, paracetamol and codeine, to ease migraine pain.
- Sumatriptan Tablets (50mg & 100mg): a triptan tablet that starts to work as quickly as 30 minutes after taking.
- Zolmitriptan 2.5mg Tablets: triptan tablets that provide relief from resistant migraine headaches and associated symptoms.
There are a number of different migraine treatments you can try. For more options, visit our migraine relief tablets & treatments page, where we also have more information and guidance on this condition.
Not all migraine treatment options are suitable for everyone, and you may find that one treatment works better for you than others.
If you aren’t sure about the benefits and possible negatives of each migraine medication, speak to your GP or our qualified team of pharmacists for more advice. You should always see your GP to have your migraines on the first occasion as some physical checks are recommended, alongside detailed descriptions of your headaches.
Once your GP decides which medication you should use, you can reorder online by completing a quick, free consultation before your order is reviewed by our medical team and your treatment is sent to you as quickly as the next working day.