An Overview of Migraine With Aura

Migraine with aura occurs in up to 30 percent of migraine sufferers

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A migraine is a type of pulsating headache that affects people of all ages and causes pain in the head that can be moderate to severe. Migraine headaches are classified into two categories: migraine with aura and migraine without aura. An aura is a neurological disturbance that may occur before a migraine begins and typically has a gradual onset and progression lasting less than one hour. About 25–30 percent of people with migraines experience auras, which can be addressed in a variety of ways.

migraine with aura treatment
Illustration by Brianna Gilmartin, Verywell

Types of Aura

Aura typically occurs before the onset of head pain. Some people who experience aura know that a migraine headache is about to occur, although not every migraine is preceded by aura. Some people experience migraine aura without a migraine headache afterward, known as a silent migraine. There are several different types of auras, with visual auras being the most common followed by sensory, language, and motor auras. When sensory, language, or motor auras develop, they are often associated with visual symptoms, however, they can also occur in isolation.

  • Visual aura: A visual aura usually is a temporary disturbance in vision or an illusion. A person might see light or an image that isn’t actually there. Temporary loss of vision or other changes in vision can occur in some people. Around 90 percent of people with migraines with aura experience a visual aura.
  • Sensory aura: A sensory aura is a change in other senses, such as tingling or numbness, in the legs, feet, arms, hands, or face.
  • Language aura: The most common symptom is word-finding difficulty, but other language problems can also occur.
  • Motor aura: This type of aura is usually characterized by an inability to move a part of the body. Fortunately, this is a rare type of aura.

Symptoms

A migraine with aura is more than a headache. This type of headache will typically cause throbbing pain on one side of the head and can be associated with the following symptoms:

  • Nausea
  • Vomiting
  • Light sensitivity
  • Sound sensitivity
  • Visual disturbances
  • Fatigue
  • Restlessness
  • Dizziness
  • Numbness or tingling
  • Food cravings
  • Neck pain
  • Mood changes
  • Stuffy nose
  • Eye pain
  • Watery eyes
  • Weakness
  • Yawning
  • Speech difficulties 

Causes

The exact cause of migraines with aura isn't understood. However, some people are able to identify certain triggers that seem to coincide with getting a migraine. Keeping track of your migraines and recording details about how you felt or things you did before the onset might help you to identify possible triggers. Many of the same factors that trigger a regular migraine can also trigger a migraine with aura. These triggers might include stress, certain foods, bright lights, too little sleep, and menstruation.

Some people find that eating certain foods can bring on a migraine with aura. If you suspect that a certain food is causing your headaches, consider keeping a food diary for a couple of weeks. If you are able to identify a particular food as a culprit, try eliminating it from your diet. Here is a list of foods that commonly trigger migraines:

  • Chocolate (light or dark)
  • Alcohol
  • Caffeine
  • MSG
  • Frozen foods
  • Dairy products (milk, cheese, yogurt)
  • Cured meat
  • Fruits (avocado, banana, citrus fruit)
  • Aspartame
  • Food dyes
  • Nitrates
  • Sulfites
  • Tyramine

Some triggers are difficult to avoid, such as bright lights or fluctuating hormone levels. Try your best to eliminate or reduce any triggers that you are able to control.

Diagnosis

If you experience a form of aura and then develop symptoms of a migraine, you may have migraine with aura.

It is important to have your doctor assess your condition, as aura can mimic other conditions such as transient ischemic attack, stroke, or seizures.

Your doctor will make a diagnosis based on your medical history, your signs and symptoms, and a physical exam.

Treatment

Treatment of migraines with aura is based on minimizing or relieving migraine pain. There is no specific treatment for the symptoms of auras. However, an aura does not last long and usually disappears within a few minutes to one hour.

Medications are often prescribed to help manage the pain that comes along with migraines. Some people have difficulty functioning during a migraine attack. Certain pain medications can help migraine sufferers follow their daily routines. The following medications have been found to be useful for the acute phase of migraines:

  • Pain relievers: Some migraine sufferers are able to find pain relief with over-the-counter pain relievers such as ibuprofen, acetaminophen, and aspirin.
  • Triptans: Triptans work by blocking the pathways of pain in the brain.
  • Anti-nausea drugs: Some people find relief from the symptoms of nausea and vomiting while taking this medication.

Some other treatments, such as antidepressants, antihypertensives (drugs used to treat high blood pressure), and some anticonvulsants (anti-seizure medications) can be used to prevent migraines. Other preventive options include Botox injections and the recently FDA-approved drug Erenumab, a calcitonin gene-related peptide receptor monoclonal antibody, which is also an injection. Alternative treatments, such as acupuncture can be of help as well.

A Word From Verywell

If you suffer from migraine with aura (or migraine without aura), your overall quality of life may be suffering. You may feel isolated because the unpredictability of your migraine attacks makes it difficult to plan social events or family outings. Frequent migraine attacks may make it difficult for you to maintain a job or relationships.

It is important that you seek the help of a professional. Some neurologists are specialists in migraines and headaches. Besides professional treatment, migraine support groups also exist to help with information and guidance.

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Article Sources
  • Boyd, Kierstan. What Is Migraine? American Academy of Ophthalmology, 27 April 2018.