People who deal with migraine aura experience visual, sensory or motor disturbances just before a migraine attack. This phenomenon usually lasts an hour or less, and symptoms may range from seeing sparks and zigzags to the inability to speak clearly.
Migraine aura is considered a “warning stage” that sometimes occurs before the onset of a migraine headache. Migraine aura refers to any number of sensory disturbances, including dots, sparks or zigzags in your vision. Some people experience tinnitus, dizziness or even the inability to speak clearly.
This condition may occur prior to or during a migraine attack — usually 30 to 60 minutes prior to the head pain. It's important to note that migraine aura doesn't happen during every migraine episode.
There are three main types of migraine auras:
Only 25% to 30% of people with migraine headaches experience migraine aura. Of that population, approximately:
People who experience visual migraine aura may notice a variety of disturbances in their field of vision. Visual migraine aura symptoms may include:
Although uncomfortable, migraine aura isn’t dangerous. However, it can mimic symptoms of other serious conditions, such as stroke. Therefore, it’s important to seek medical care if you think something suspicious is going on.
The exact causes of migraine aura are unknown. However, research indicates that the condition may be due to an electrical wave that moves across the visual cortex, resulting in visual changes.
Migraine aura is typically triggered by the same factors that cause migraine without aura. Common causes include:
To rule out more serious conditions, such as a transient ischemic attack (TIA) or mini stroke, your healthcare provider will perform a physical examination. They may also run certain tests to confirm your diagnosis. These tests may include:
Migraine aura treatment is focused on easing symptoms. Your healthcare provider may recommend a number of medications, including:
While migraine aura can’t be prevented altogether, there are certain things you can do to reduce the length, severity and frequency of attacks. If you experience severe migraines that don’t respond well to treatment, your healthcare provider might recommend:
In most cases, migraine aura symptoms start gradually. Episodes usually last between 20 and 60 minutes.
If you notice migraine aura or other migraine warning signs, stop whatever you’re doing as quickly as possible. Take any medications recommended by your healthcare provider. Find a dark, quiet room and sleep if you’re able.
Migraine aura symptoms can be similar to symptoms of other, more serious illnesses. Therefore, you should contact your healthcare provider immediately if warning signs occur.
Yes. Some people experience silent migraine auras. Treating this condition can be difficult since most medications take longer to work than the aura’s duration. Still, taking pain medication at the first sign of aura may reduce the risk of pain, nausea and sensitivity to light or loud noises.
The causes of migraine aura without pain or headache aren’t fully understood. However, you can learn more about specific triggers by keeping a journal or diary. Keep a record of when your episodes occurred, how long each one lasted and what the symptoms were like. In some cases, this can help you figure out what triggers your migraine auras.
Most migraine aura last an hour or less. However, some people may experience continuous migraine auras that last a week or longer. If this happens to you, be sure to contact your healthcare provider right away. They’ll run tests to ensure that your symptoms aren’t due to other, more serious conditions.
Pregnancy can result in increased migraine aura without headaches. If you’re pregnant and are experiencing a migraine with or without aura, contact your healthcare provider immediately.
A note from Cleveland Clinic
Migraine aura isn’t usually dangerous, but the condition can disrupt your daily life. If you experience migraine aura with or without headaches, inform your healthcare provider. Not only can they help you manage your symptoms, but they can also make sure your migraine aura isn’t related to other, more troubling health problems.
Last reviewed by a Cleveland Clinic medical professional on 11/25/2021.
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