Migraine Headache Aura

Are these strange symptoms I'm experiencing a migraine headache aura?  If so, what does it tell me about what's going on in my brain?  Can it help me find a treatment?

When experiencing migraine aura symptoms for the first time, many people wonder just how serious their condition is.  Is there something wrong with my brain?  Am I going crazy?

Typical Migraine Headache Aura
In most cases, people will find that there are others who are experiencing similar migraine headache aura.  Let's take a look at some of the symptoms.

A word about terms

It surprises a lot of people that migraine aura and migraine headache don't always go together.  Migraine is a genetic based neurological disease that varies from person to person.  There are several different types of migraine.

For example, migraine without aura is very common.  In this type of migraine, there is headache but no aura.  Then there's typical aura with migraine headache, migraine with headache and aura.

But there's also typical aura without headache, another subtype of migraine in which there is aura, but no headache at all.

In other words, migraine does not always include migraine headache.  So technically, headache and aura are both possible symptoms of the same disease.  Migraine headache aura would imply that the headache and aura come in the same attack (and we'll talk about that in a moment), but that's now always the case.

The Aura - When?

A migraine headache aura will typically occur before the headache phase of the migraine attack.  Again, we're assuming that there is a headache in this attack.

Typically, it's the stage directly before the headache.  However, sometimes the term is used of symptoms that occur up to a day or two before the headache phase.  However, here we're mainly talking about aura that takes place a few minutes before the headache phase.

The Aura - What?

A migraine aura can actually be a lot of things.  It could include dizziness, ringing in the ears, numbness in feet or hands, and many more strange symptoms.  For more, see People with migraine and aura deal with frightening symptoms . . .

The most well known type of migraine headache aura is a visual aura.  This may include seeing patterns, flashing lights, or even going blind (temporarily).  All these symptoms are temporary and typically last only a few minutes.

Typical Visual Migraine Aura

Migraine aura with area of decreased vision
Here are some of the typical visual auras:
  • Blind or grey spot
  • Flashing lights (often in a pattern such as above)
  • Zig zags
  • Spectrum patterns (many colours)
  • Webs or lattice patterns
  • Geometric shapes
  • Combinations of the above
Someone with aura may also experience other types of hallucinations.  Things seeming larger or smaller or of a strange shape, things that seem tilted, double vision, and more.

Should I be worried?

Today we believe that most visual aura is a result of the "storm" that passes over your brain (cortical spreading depression).  In other words, it's another symptoms that is a part of the migraine chain-reaction that takes place in your body.  For more, read Why Migraine Auras are the way the are

For that reason, migraine aura actually gives us clues into what migraine is and what is happening in the body during an attack.

It is very important to treat migraine as a whole.  Take note of the symptoms you're experiencing, and talk to a doctor or better yet a specialist.  (For more, see Are Migraines Dangerous?)

However, it's important to remember that several different things can cause these kinds of visual symptoms.  If you have new symptoms, or your symptoms change, you need to see your doctor right away.

More on Migraine Aura...

If you really want to study the many strange symptoms or migraine, an excellent resource on migraine headache aura is Migraine Art: The Migraine Experience from Within.

You can also see many of the images of migraine aura that our visitors have shared.  Visit the Migraine, headache, and art page and scroll down for the links.