“Migraine chills,” or feeling cold and shivery alongside a throbbing headache, are common migraine symptoms. This is because the areas of the brain that link to migraine also control temperature.

Some research estimates that 1.1 billion people worldwide live with migraine. Migraine chills or feeling cold are among the common symptoms of migraine, though migraine presents differently for many people who live with the condition.

Migraine chills may feel like shivering or sweating, as the areas of the brain that link to migraine also control the temperature.

This article explores why migraine chills occur, and their possible causes. It will also detail the treatment of migraine symptoms.

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Chills are a symptom involving shivering or shaking linked to a rapid change in body temperature. While experiencing chills, muscles respond with involuntary shivering to warm up the body.

Chills are different from feeling cold, as they are a quick involuntary shiver of the arms or trunk that may occur before or during a migraine. These feel similar to shivers that happen when someone is cold. In migraine, it could be related to central core temperature regulation.

In some people, migraine attacks may present as chills or a cold feeling in the upper arms or trunk of the body. This may result from migraine-triggered changes in different areas of the brain.

Several factors can play into the development of migraine chills.

Brain changes in the prodrome phase may contribute

A 2018 review suggested that there are changes in brain activity during a migraine, and certain underlying structural or functional changes in the brain might predispose people to them.

Attacks start with a phase known as the prodrome, which gives a series of warning signs that migraine headaches are on the way. Females with migraine may experience prodromal symptoms more often than males who have the condition. According to a 2015 paper, the prodrome phase may start in:

The development of chills may relate to changes in the hypothalamus during this stage, as a drop in body temperature can lead to chills and shivering.

A note about sex and gender

Sex and gender exist on spectrums. This article will use the terms “male,” “female,” or both to refer to sex assigned at birth. Click here to learn more.

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Migraine and blood vessel changes in females

A 2020 study framed a theory that migraine in females has links to an increase in the risk of blood vessel conditions like stroke and heart disease. As such, the development of chills and cold hands and feet might also relate to migraine-linked changes in blood vessels. However, further research is necessary.

The authors also propose that the link between a higher risk of cold extremities and having migraine attacks more often could relate to the effects of cold extremities on a female’s ability to sleep. A lack of sleep or poor-quality sleep can increase a person’s risk of migraine attacks.

The authors suggest that the blood vessel changes might be linked to female sex hormones, although more research is necessary to confirm this.

Learn more about migraine.

Migraine is highly individual, and many symptoms vary depending on the individual experiencing attacks. This means that not everyone will experience migraine chills.

However, a 2020 study found that women may be more likely to experience cold extremities as a migraine symptom than men. People who live with migraine chills can also have more frequent attacks than those who don’t.

Chills and shivering are not common migraine symptoms, and neither symptom indicates any worse or better prognosis or type of migraine.

According to a 2021 review, some research suggests people ages 30–34 are also more likely to live with migraine, as well as people with the following health conditions:

The American Migraine Foundation recommends seeing a doctor about constant, debilitating headaches and migraine symptoms if:

  • Headaches happen more than once a week.
  • A person has headaches of any frequency that are difficult to control.
  • A person takes pain medication more than twice weekly for all types of headaches, including migraine headaches.
  • Friends and family note how often headaches seem to occur.

A doctor may be able to prescribe more effective medications to reduce episodes, soothe pain, and improve quality of life.

Medications for migraine symptoms, including chills, are available. While there’s no direct treatment for migraine chills as a symptom in their own right, managing migraine attacks can reduce any individual symptoms that occur during an episode.

Acute migraine medications

Some medications can address migraine symptoms like chills as they are happening. These include:

  • Antiemetics: These do not directly help chills, but they can reduce nausea and vomiting. They might also help the body absorb pain relievers more completely during migraine attacks.
  • Pain relief medications: Simple analgesics and nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) can help soothe headaches.
  • Gepants: This is a class of drugs that includes CGRP antagonists. They can manage migraine episodes as they are happening and cause fewer overuse headaches than other pain relief medications.
  • Triptans: These reduce pain and sickness during migraine attacks.

Two approaches can help to prevent episodes of migraine symptoms like chills: lifestyle changes and taking migraine medication. Successful prevention may reduce the number of a person’s migraine attacks by up to half.

Preventive migraine medication

People can take the following medications before attacks to prevent symptoms, including migraine chills:

  • Angiotensin-II blockers: One type of blood pressure medication, candesartan, can help reduce migraine attacks.
  • Anticonvulsants: These help nerves in the brain react less, which could reduce migraine attacks.
  • Antidepressants: Anti-serotonergic medications are part of depression treatment, but they can also help people with migraine by changing levels of chemical messengers in the brain, such as serotonin. Tricyclic anti-depressants might also help, particularly in people with migraine experiencing sleep difficulties.
  • Beta-blockers: These widen the blood vessels by interfering with adrenalin’s actions in the body.
  • Calcitonin gene-related peptide (CGRP) antagonists: These use immune cells to block compounds in the body that make migraine worse.
  • Calcium channel blockers: These also help the body control how blood vessels widen and contract.

Lifestyle changes

Making some adjustments to diet and managing stress can reduce exposure to migraine triggers. This can reduce prodromal symptoms like migraine chills.

Some studies have identified the following foods and drinks as possible migraine triggers to consider, though they may not include all of them:

  • chocolate
  • citrus fruits
  • nuts
  • ice cream
  • tomatoes
  • onion
  • dairy
  • drinks containing alcohol
  • coffee
  • foods and drinks containing caffeine
  • foods containing monosodium glutamate (MSG), histamine, tyramine, phenylethylamine, nitrites, aspartame, sucralose, and gluten

Switching these out for options that are less likely to trigger migraine attacks might help people with migraine. Other lifestyle changes that reduce migraine attacks by limiting exposure to migraine triggers include:

  • regular exercise
  • eating regular, scheduled meals
  • drinking enough water
  • stress management, like yoga, meditation, socializing with loved ones, or engaging in enjoyable activities
  • weight management in people with obesity

Strategies to help with migraine chills include:

  • wearing warm clothing
  • using blankets for warmth
  • drinking a warm drink
  • using a heating pad

Alternative treatments and supplements

Some non-medicinal therapies may help people with migraine reduce episodes and manage discomfort.

These may include things like acupuncture. Research has supported this method for short-term migraine pain relief.

Natural supplements that may support migraine treatment and prevention include:

Some supplements may interfere with medication or existing conditions. Always check with a doctor or healthcare professional before using supplements.

Migraine chills might occur due to changes in the parts of the brain that control temperature. Some people have chills and shivers as part of their migraine symptoms. Feeling cold, especially in the hands and feet, is also more common among people with migraine.

However, treatment to manage and prevent migraine symptoms can also have the effect of reducing chills. If chills aren’t improving alongside migraine headaches, consulting with a doctor is a good idea to rule out other causes.