Understanding Migraine with Aura

What to know about migraine with aura, and what it can tell you about your headaches

Doctors and patients alike have been fascinated and puzzled by how migraine and aura go hand in hand. In fact, when diagnosing an individual with migraine, people may fall into the category of migraine with aura or migraine without aura, or both. Often described as a “warning sign,” the aura stage of migraine is unique because it is only experienced by 25 to 30% of people with migraine.

What is aura?

Aura is a series of sensory disturbances that happen shortly before a migraine attack. These disturbances range from seeing sparks, bright dots, and zig zags to tingling on one side of the body or an inability to speak clearly, and usually last 20-60 minutes. Aura is of particular interest to doctors and researchers as it doesn’t affect every person with migraine, and it generally doesn’t occur during every migraine attack.

Because of the varying levels of sensory changes, aura can be alarming to experience, which is why being able to determine what type of headache you have can help to understand your symptoms and the progression of an attack. It can also be invaluable information to share with your doctor. The types of migraine known to have an aura stage are:

Different types of aura

Those who have migraine aura may have a range of symptoms, including:

  • Vision Disturbances: Seeing spots, flashes, zig zags, stars, or even losing sight for short periods of time.
  • Sensory Changes: Feeling tingling or numbness in the face, body, hands and fingers.
  • Speech or Language Problems: Unable to produce the right words, slurring or mumbling words.

Coping with aura

Treating migraine with aura should consist of a combination of acute and preventative medication. However, according to Todd Schwedt, MD, if your symptoms have an immediate onset, last longer than 60 minutes or do not completely resolve, medical attention is required. If you experience additional symptoms, such as weakness on one side of the body, change in consciousness or level of alertness, it’s time to see a doctor. Migraine with aura also increases the risk of stroke – because of this, treating other stroke risk factors and avoiding certain medications is important and should be discussed with your physician.

If you would like more information on migraine and aura, visit the American Migraine Foundation’s Resource Library, or use our doctor database to locate a specialist in your area.