A migraine is a painful and debilitating condition that affects over 35 million Americans¹. Over four million adults suffer from chronic migraines every day, and symptoms often linger. Many people experience a migraine hangover (also called postdrome).
There is no cure for migraines, but there are ways to prevent and manage the condition and its lingering effects, including taking pain medications.
Find out how you can get back to feeling like yourself after a migraine by preventing and managing the unpleasant symptoms of a migraine hangover.
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A migraine hangover is the last stage of a migraine. You may still experience symptoms, even when your headache has eased.
The four stages of a migraine and the accompanying symptoms are:
Aura: (lasts up to 60 minutes) Symptoms include vision impairment, numbness or tingling in different parts of the body, dizziness, weakness, and slurred speech.
Headache: (lasts a few hours to a few days) Symptoms include nausea, vomiting, anxiety, insomnia, mood swings, a throbbing and drilling headache, neck pain, and sensitivity to light and sound.
Postdrome: (lasts up to 48 hours) Symptoms include fatigue, depressed mood, weakness, dizziness, and confusion.
You won’t always experience a migraine hangover after a migraine, but it affects about 80% of people². Just because you experienced a migraine hangover in the past doesn’t mean you’ll have one after every migraine.
Migraine hangover symptoms, like nausea and dizziness, are similar to what you might experience in the morning after consuming substantial amounts of alcohol the night before. Sudden head movements or intense activity during the postdrome phase could cause your migraine headache to return briefly.
More research needs to be done to understand the underlying cause of migraine hangovers.
What causes the postdrome stage is likely to be the same as what caused your migraine in the first place.
A migraine could be triggered by:
Missing or delaying a meal
Certain foods or drinks
Daily use of pain relievers
An estrogen drop (for women)
Bright lights and loud noises
A recent study³ showed the duration of postdrome isn’t affected by the severity of your migraine or the medication you take to manage it.
Keeping a migraine journal can help you understand which triggers usually lead to migraine hangovers. It can help you avoid triggers in the future and minimize your discomfort.
You can reduce the effects of a migraine hangover by managing it in the most efficient way possible. This includes taking steps to:
Stay hydrated throughout all the migraine phases
Participate in light activities (like stretching and walking)
Eat healthy, nutritious meals
Use ice packs or hot water bottles
Avoid migraine triggers (for example, you might need to avoid drinking coffee)
Allow yourself to rest
After the pain and disruption of a migraine, you might be tempted to jump back into your daily routine. However, you should go easy on yourself during the postdrome phase. Overstimulation and strenuous activities could delay your recovery.
If you have regular migraines, you should make an appointment to discuss a comprehensive treatment plan with your doctor.
They may prescribe preventive medication, such as:
Your doctor may also recommend taking over-the-counter pain relievers, such as ibuprofen-based Excedrin Migraine and Advil Migraine.
Keep in mind that taking Tylenol (paracetamol/acetaminophen) to treat a migraine hangover may not be as effective⁴ as using ibuprofen-based over-the-counter medications. This is because Tylenol doesn’t offer anti-inflammatory properties.
While following your doctor’s advice, you can try home remedies to help ease your symptoms of migraine hangover.
Heat or ice: Try applying heat pads or ice packs to painful areas during postdrome to relieve discomfort and help you resume normal activities.
Relaxation: Stress is a major migraine trigger⁵, and when you experience a migraine, your stress levels increase. Finding ways to relax and reduce stress can help you manage your migraine hangover symptoms.
Massage: Massage can relieve muscle tension, reduce neck pain, and alleviate stress. Speak to your doctor about a referral or find a professional masseuse.
Yoga: Some people find yoga and other stretching activities have a positive effect on their migraine hangover symptoms. Studies⁶ show that yoga can reduce stress, anxiety, and depression.
Help: Don’t hesitate to ask for help when suffering from a migraine hangover. A family member or friend can help take care of your daily tasks and commitments, make you food, and collect medications.
You can take steps to prevent migraine and a migraine hangover, including:
Avoiding your personal migraine triggers (a journal can help you identify them)
Taking necessary supplements for maintaining healthy levels of vitamins and minerals
If you are a woman, watch your hormone levels (estrogen fluctuations⁷ may trigger migraines)
If you have frequent migraine episodes, talk to your doctor about medication.
Postdrome, or a migraine hangover, is the fourth and final migraine phase. While symptoms are not usually severe, they can be debilitating and interrupt your day-to-day life.
To reduce the risk of developing a migraine hangover, you can take preventive measures like avoiding your migraine triggers. You can ease your symptoms and hasten your recovery by leveraging home remedies and taking over-the-counter pain medications like ibuprofen. Tylenol and other acetaminophens may not be as effective.
Speak to your doctor about recurring migraines and if your migraine hangovers are affecting your daily life and wellbeing.
Prevalence of migraines | The Migraine Institute
How long do migraine attacks last? Duration, symptoms, and what to do | Medical News Today
The migraine postdrome (2016)
OTC: Wrapping your mind around migraine medications | UC San Diego Health
Stress and migraine | American Migraine Foundation
Headaches and women: What do hormones have to do with it? | Johns Hopkins Medicine