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How Long Does a Migraine Headache Last?

by
author image Ashley Waters Gordon
Ashley Waters Gordon has been writing for seven years. She has published articles in several medical publications, for professional associations, and has created health promotions content for government and private clients. She holds a master's degree from Emory University and a bachelor's degree from Johns Hopkins University.
How Long Does a Migraine Headache Last?
A woman relaxing in a quiet outdoor setting with a bottle of water. Photo Credit malyugin/iStock/Getty Images

In the middle of a migraine attack, all you want to know is how much longer it's going to last. In a study by Dr. Terayama et al., researchers found that the duration of a migraine is one of the most important factors affecting quality of life for migraine sufferers. So how long does a migraine headache last? It could last anywhere between a half hour and several days, and it varies depending on several factors.

Migraine Types

Your particular type of migraine is the greatest indicator of how long your migraine will last. An optical migraine, or an aura, lasts up to an hour or two. Classic migraines, which are painful migraines with an aura coming before the headache, last between one and two days. Common migraines, which do not have auras first, can last up to three or four days. Learn more about your type of migraine to determine about how long it will last.

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Rebound Headaches

Dr. David Buchholz, a neurologist from Johns Hopkins University, writes in his book on migraines that rebound headaches, migraines that occur shortly after an initial migraine, can be stronger and longer lasting than the first headache. To reduce the duration of your migraine symptoms, take steps to prevent rebound headaches. Avoid caffeine in foods and medications. Get plenty of uninterrupted sleep and stay well hydrated. Reducing your migraine triggers may also reduce the length of your migraines.

Triggers

Some foods increase your chances of having a migraine. The more you eat of these trigger foods, the worse the migraine becomes, and the longer it becomes, too. Avoid foods with tyramine, including aged cheeses and chocolate, or foods with nitrates like preserved meats. Steer clear of foods containing MSG, which is found in many prepared foods. Eliminate citrus fruits if those bring on your migraines. And reduce your caffeine intake, since it can cause strong rebound headaches. Managing these triggers will help you take control of your migraines and shorten their duration.

Catch Migraines Early

Catching migraines early can limit how long they last. For some migraine sufferers, noticing early signs of their migraine coming on means they can get the jump on the painful headache. Some notice changes in their vision, while others feel numb or tingling limbs. Extreme thirst can also be an early sign of migraines. As soon as you notice these symptoms, start treating your migraine. Drink water, take your prescription or over-the-counter medication and move to a low-light area. Use relaxation techniques to release any tension in your face, jaw or neck.

In the Genes

The National Institutes of Health report that researchers are finding a greater role of genes in migraines. Genes predispose some people to having migraines and may also play a role in how we experience migraines. You can't control or change your genes, but if you know a parent also has migraines, you can be vigilant about reducing your migraine triggers. Talk with your doctor if migraines run in your family. Learn about how you can improve migraine symptoms and keep them as short as possible.

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