Aura Migraines – An Overview

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.

In the minutes leading up to a migraine, some sufferers experience “aura” — visual symptoms like geometric patterns, flashing lights or possibly a shimmering effect (kind of like heat waves) that indicate a migraine’s about to strike. Less than one quarter of migraine sufferers will ever experience an aura. Auras usually develop gradually over five to 20 minutes and last less than 60 minutes. Headaches typically follows the aura, but might begin during the aura as well. 1

Different Types of Aura

Most commonly, aura is experienced in both “positive” and “negative” forms. The negative experience has nothing to do with it being worse than positive aura, but in that it leaves the person with blind or white spots along with tunnel vision, reducing their field of vision. “Positive” means that sufferers will see something added to their field of vision, often a shimmering border or a band of absent vision. Those who experience this type of positive symptom will often see the vision enlarge as time goes on, and will sometimes hallucinate other visions during the lead-up to the migraine headache.

The second-most common aura experienced before a headache is paresthesia, or the feeling of numbness, tingling or a prickly feeling in one’s skin. Nearly 40 percent of all aura migraine sufferers report paresthesia as a part of their migraine experience, and numbness or a prickly feeling can often originate in the hands or limbs and then migrate towards the face.

Other aura symptoms can include sensory symptoms like heavy-feeling or weak limbs, and those who experience sensory issues often also report language or speech impairment during this same time.

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1. Rothrock, John F., editor. “Migraine Aura.” Headache Toolbox, 2009,



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