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migraine aura

What Is a Migraine Aura? What You Should Know About Migraines With Aura

Migraines with aura cause some migraine sufferers to see geometric patterns and shiny waves. Here’s what you need to know about this type of migraine.

The most well-known phase of a migraine is the headache phase. However, for about 10% to 30% of migraine sufferers, the head pain comes with some very distinct warning signs, commonly called an aura.

A migraine aura is a neurological phenomenon most commonly associated with visual disturbances before the onset of a headache. You may see things like zig zag lines, flashing lights, or other visual effects before your migraine begins.

However, some auras may involve sensory symptoms or speech and language disturbances.1,2

Read on to find out more about the causes and symptoms of this common type of migraine and learn how you can get relief when it does strike.

Migraine with aura symptoms

Migraines with aura include additional visual and non-visual symptoms that can provide a useful warning that a headache is on its way.1

The visual aura symptoms may include:1,2

  • Geometric patterns
  • Flashing lights
  • Stars and spots
  • Zig zag lines
  • Sparkles
  • A shimmering effect (similar to heat waves)

These may appear in the center of your field of vision and gradually spread outward.1,2 Some people also experience blind spots or tunnel vision.

Non-visual aura symptoms may include:1,2

  • Tingling or numbness in the hands or face
  • Dizziness or vertigo
  • Muscle weakness
  • Difficulty with speech and/or hearing
  • A sense of fear or confusion (rare)
  • Partial paralysis or fainting (rare)

Auras usually develop over the course of five to 20 minutes and last fewer than 60 minutes. The head pain and other symptoms associated with classic migraines typically come after the aura, but might begin during the auraas well.1

In rare cases, you may experience the aura without a migraine following – this is more common in people over the age of 50.1,2

Causes of migraines with aura

The cause of migraines with aura isn’t fully understood.2 Like migraines without aura they are considered a neurovascular disorder. As nerve cell activity increases within the brain, inflammatory chemicals are released, causing swelling of the cranial blood vessels. As the blood vessels swell, they activate the surrounding pain receptors, which ultimately transmit pain signals to the brain.3

Migraines with aura seem to be triggered by many of the same things that can bring on migraine without aura, including:2

  • Bright lights
  • Stress
  • Certain foods or drugs
  • Hormonal changes – such as during menstruation
  • Changes in altitude or air pressure
  • Issues with sleep – lack of, or too much

Read more about what causes migraines.

Risk factors and complications

Like migraines without aura, migraines with aura don’t appear to cause lasting damage, although they can be painful and disruptive.4 However, people who experience migraines with aura (particularly women and smokers) may have a slightly higher risk of stroke, and so should be aware of the signs.2,5

You should also consult a doctor when you first experience aura symptoms, as some of these can also be caused by a stroke, retinal tear or other serious conditions.2

Migraines are also more common in women than in men, and in people who have a family history of the condition.2

Treating migraines with aura

The treatment for migraine with aura is the same as for migraine without aura. It is generally recommended to take your migraine medication at the first sign of migraine symptoms. These could include over-the-counter painkillers or prescription drugs such as triptans or dihydroergotamines.6

Sometimes you may need a combination of drugs for effective pain relief. For example, Excedrin Migraine is a doctor-recommended, over-the-counter remedy combining acetaminophen, aspirin and caffeine that helps stop migraine pain quickly. You may also require anti-nausea drugs if your migraine symptoms include nausea or vomiting. These can also help you keep down your other medicines.6

Many people find it helps to wait out the migraine in a dim, quiet room, away from obtrusive lights and sounds. You could also try placing an ice pack or cool, damp cloth on your forehead or the back of your neck for a soothing effect.6

In addition to pain-relieving medications designed to stop migraine symptoms once they start, your doctor may recommend you take preventative drugs to try to reduce your migraine frequency and severity overtime. These take longer to take effect, but can be useful if short-term, acute treatments are not working.6 Talk to your doctor about your migraines and treatment options.

Read more about treatment options for migraines.

Prevention and lifestyle

Making adjustments in your lifestyle can sometimes help to prevent migraines from happening as often. Try these tips:6,7

  • Exercise regularly
  • Practice relaxation techniques to avoid stress
  • Eat on a consistent schedule
  • Stay well hydrated
  • Keep a headache diary to help identify potential triggers
  • Make sure you get enough sleep (but not too much)

Find more information and advice on migraine prevention.


  1. Migraine with aura (symptoms). The Migraine Trust.
    Accessed 07/01/20.
  2. Mayo Clinic. Migraine with aura: Symptoms & causes
    Accessed 07/01/20
  3. Headaches in adults. Cleveland Clinic
    Accessed 07/01/20
  4. Does migraine damage the brain? The Migraine Trust
    Accessed 07/01/20.
  5. Stroke and migraine. The Migraine Trust.
    Accessed 07/01/20.
  6. Migraine with aura (diagnosis & treatment).
    Accessed 07/01/20.
  7. Headache Hygiene –What is it? American Migraine Foundation.
    Accessed 07/01/20


Tags: migraine causes, aura migrainestypes of headaches

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