When people think about migraine, there are often two things that come to mind - migraine auras and migraine headaches. Neither one of these things are always present in a migraine attack; in fact, sometimes people experience only one or the other. And there are times when the aura can be as disturbing as the headache.
There's still a lot to be learned about auras. But there has been an attempt to at least give a name to the stages a person goes through when they're having a migraine attack. The first two stages are sometimes called the prodrome
, and the aura
Both of these refer to the strange symptoms that precede the typical headache.
Sometimes these two stages are lumped together, and so "migraine auras" can refer to a whole host of symptoms that come minutes, hours, or days before the main part of the attack.
For example, some people have reported feeling just a little "off", or hyperactive, or they may have food cravings, or be irritable. Others have reported trouble thinking of words (aphasia
), or slurred speech. Sometimes there is increased skin sensitivity and pain (allodynia
More often, however, when we talk about auras we're referring to visual disturbances
that come shortly before a headache hits. People will see jagged lines, flashing lights, circles, squares, or just a distortion. There could even be partial blindness. Objects may seem closer or farther away than they actually are.
(Visual distortions may have inspired some scenes in Lewis Carroll's book Through the Looking Glass
, such as the scene when Alice grows and grows and her feet seem to be very far away!)
These disturbances have inspired a lot of migraine aura art
through the years, and there has been a lot of speculation that historic art at times may have been inspired by these "visions".
Auras such as these typically last between 20 and 40 minutes.
Sometimes the aura is the main symptom of migraine, and there's no headache at all. Often called silent migraine
, today it is simply known as migraine aura without headache
. The symptoms can be very severe and disturbing, and it's always important to see a doctor who can rule out other diseases and issues.
The good news
Though migraine auras can be pretty scary, some people have also found them to be helpful. Many researchers believe that it's important to take medication as early in the attack as possible, and auras can provide a kind of "warning system". Also, changes in aura patterns can signal changes that can get you to the doctor to detect a new problem early on.
The other good news is that the aura can often be treated successfully along with the rest of the migraine attack.
How common are auras?
It's usually estimated that 15-20% of migraineurs experience aura.
That doesn't mean that these people get aura all the time. As a personal example, I've experienced migraine aura with headache, migraine aura without headache, and the migraine with headache and no aura.
Recent research has suggested that there is a difference between patients with aura and patients without. There may be treatments that work better for one type of patient. As time goes by we may understand that there is a different root cause for each.
Meanwhile, no one is sure exactly what causes these strange phenomena. Is it changes in oxygen levels in the brain? Over excitement of brain cells? I'll let the neurologists debate the question. :)
In conclusionMost people would be glad to know that they're not the only ones with these "crazy symptoms"!
They are very common, and often they can be treated, if they are serious enough. It is important to see your doctor if you have any new symptoms, or a change in symptoms.
Read this article
for more on this subject.
is a researcher and health writer at Relieve-Migraine-Headache.com
. He's been dealing with migraine personally for about 20 years. He is thankful for a beautiful wife and two fun children. :)
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