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What Migraines Really Feel Like, From People Who Get Them

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Editor’s note: Some of the responses provided are graphic in nature.

If you’ve never had a migraine, you might assume it’s similar to a particularly bad headache. We all get headaches from time to time, right? But a migraine isn’t “just a headache” — in fact, the effects often extend beyond the head to other parts of the body, such as the stomach, arms and legs, depending on the type of migraine experienced.

We teamed up with The Daily Migraine to ask both of our communities the following question: “If you experience migraines, how would you describe what it’s like to someone who doesn’t understand?” The goal is to increase understanding and compassion around this condition. We believe these answers will help.

1. “Every single sound seems to be coming at me from a loud speaker, and every movement makes my stomach feel like I’ve been on some horrible roller coaster.” — Jacob Christie Martinez

2. “Once the pain fades, it feels like I ran a marathon. My body is exhausted.” — Instagram user niners07153

“Once the pain fades, it feels like I ran a marathon. My body is exhausted.” — Instagram user niners07153

3. “Light is like a million needles sticking you in the eyes. Sounds are amplified as if you’re in the front row of a rock concert. Did I mention it’s a band you hate? Smells that you normally find delightful make your stomach turn. The thought of food leaves you searching for a wastebasket. But the hardest part is the pounding in your head. It’s so intense, so debilitating, it makes you question your existence.” — Jennifer Hines

4. “I can’t think. All I feel is the pain and then the fear of the nausea. And then the nausea. It becomes my entire focus to get home to bed and away from everyone. It has and will ruin some of my best days, and I hate that.” — Instagram user khmoore70

5. “I gave birth vaginally with no drugs. It hurt like hell. I’d rather do that again anytime that have a migraine. At least with birth I know it’s going to end at some point.” — Instagram user

6. “My head feels like it is in a vice grip, and someone just keeps tightening it slowly all day.” — Theresa Turner

“My head feels like it is in a vice grip, and someone just keeps tightening it slowly all day.” — Theresa Turner

7. “Light sensitivity means the blinds are closed, electronics are off and I’m not leaving the house unless I have no other choice.” — Kara Cardoza

8. “It’s as if your head has a giant bell over it, and someone is hitting the bell with a sledgehammer, and each hit is only a blink of an eye. All sound, light and scents are in overdrive with no sense of control or hope for relief because the pain just shoots throughout your entire body.” — Instagram user monchikins

9. “Everything is brighter, louder and smells stronger.” — Katie Louise Krzyzanowski

10. “Imagine the onset of the burning pain when you get a shot and feel the medicine spreading. Then imagine that amplified to an intensity that is white hot in pain and never-ending. Once you have that idea of pain, imagine that simple onset you have at a shot and then it shooting to that white-hot pain level you thought of — all over your head, neck and eyes. Imagine a child sitting straight on your chest when you’re trying to breathe, staring into the sunlight every time you see light, the feeling of being stuck in the tilt-o-whirl and not being able to get off every time you stand, headphones stuck in your ears that have the volume turned way up too loud every time you hear a single sound, and the pain and nausea of food poisoning in your stomach every time you eat or even smell food. All that? At the same time. Every day. Imagine that and tell me you’d be able to just shake it off and continue on through life. The thing is — if you haven’t had a migraine, you can’t imagine it. Not really.” — Instagram user littletechiebird

11. “My migraines are debilitating. I cannot think, talk, walk, etc. It feels like my head is going to pop off. You tell me I can still do my daily routine, but I cant. It’s not an excuse, it’s a reality.” — Corvette Shannon

It's not an excuse, it's a reality.” — Corvette Shannon

12. “It’s next to impossible to be functional. When the aura starts, I want to cry, because I know the agony I’m about to endure for at least the rest of the day. Possibly longer.” — Gina Anton

13. “If you’ve ever had a brain freeze, that’s what it feels like, but it last for hours or days.” — Instagram user gloria_indy

14. “Here’s the best description I can give:

An incessant storm

In my brain

Thundering drums

And raging pain

Scattered bursts

Of scintillating light

Wreaking havoc

With my sight

Endless torment

You can’t see

An invisible storm

Inside of me

— Selena Marie Wilson

15. “It feels like your brain is too big for your skull, so it’s pushing to get out. Sometimes I swear something is pushing on my actual brain.” — Instagram user jenboard40

16. “For me, it usually feels like someone is trying to scoop my left eye out with a spoon. All day, every day after day after day.” — Cary Rice Schwent

17. “Like a hangover with no alcohol — low blood sugar, sore head and nauseous.” — Instagram user 16beast16

18. “The last really painful one affected every part of me. And after it eased up, my arms and legs didn’t even feel like they were mine. It felt as if I had concrete running through my veins instead of blood.” — Conny Shows

19. “Like someone jammed a knife into your skull and you feel the pressure building. And then to be extra cruel, they are twisting the knife from time to time. Meanwhile, their cohort is messing with the lights and making the room spin.” — Instagram user ilovebunnybutts

20. “There’s a thunderstorm inside your head: you have a visual aura with flashing lines and spots, and any noise echoes inside your head, like thunder, making your head pound and the room seem to spin with every clap.” — Laura Vago

"There's a thunderstorm inside your head."

21. “I say: ‘What is the worst pain you ever felt?’ They say: ‘When I broke my leg.’ I say: ‘Well, imagine the amount of pain you had the second you broke it, but then actually walking on it. That is the pain we feel when we have a migraine. This pain can last though days, weeks, months or years! But it is internal. We can go to doctors and endless hospital visits and take medications, but it can all end in more pain. Now add all the other symptoms we have to live with on top of the pain. Dizziness, fatigue, aura, nausea, etc. Now add that people don’t believe you because you hide all of it behind a smile. You have to live your life normally with the fear of falling behind or having a pain that might come at a unknown time. Now you understand?’” — Instagram user migraine_fighters

*Some answers have been shortened for brevity and clarity. These answers are also based on people’s personal experiences and should not be considered medical advice. If you have any questions or concerns regarding your health, please consult a doctor or medical professional.

Originally published: March 9, 2016
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