When you think about migraines, you’re likely imagining an experience that involves a headache and visual aura symptoms. However, it is actually possible to experience a migraine aura without the headache pain.1,2,3 While an aura without a headache isn’t common, some people who experience migraines will have an aura not accompanied by head pain.1 Below, we’ll walk through the ins and outs of migraine auras to help you determine if you’re experiencing a migraine aura without the pain or another issue with symptoms that impact your vision.
What Is a Migraine Aura?
A migraine aura is a set of sensory changes that typically precede a migraine headache.1 Many people experience auras visually, with sensory disturbances like flashes or sparks, spotted vision, seeing zig-zag patterns, or losing the ability to see temporarily.1,4 Sometimes a migraine aura also causes tingling or a feeling of numbness in the body, face, or hands.1 You may also experience temporary symptoms of tinnitus, dizziness, and the ability to speak with a migraine aura.4 Migraine aura symptoms generally last for an hour or less.4
Migraine auras can be categorized into one of three types: visual auras, sensorimotor auras, and dysphasic auras.4 A visual aura impacts a person’s vision and includes symptoms like seeing flashes.4 A sensorimotor aura causes motor and sensory experiences like numbness and tingling. A dysphasic aura impacts speech.4
Other Stages of a Migraine
An aura is typically the second stage of a migraine.5 The four stages of a migraine are prodrome, aura, attack and post-drome.5 During the prodrome stage, which comes before an aura, you may notice warning signs of a migraine one to two days before the pain occurs.5 These warning symptoms include mood changes, increased urination, frequent yawning, neck stiffness and food cravings.5 After the attack stage of a migraine is the post-drome stage, where you may feel drained, confused or washed out for about a day.5 Not everyone who experiences a migraine will go through all four of these stages.5
How to Identify an Aura
The most common type of migraine aura is visual, which occurs in 90 to 99 percent of people who experience auras.4 A visual aura can be identified by the following visual symptoms:4
- Blind spots
- Fogged vision
- Zigzag lines
- Flashes or flashing lights
- Bright and colorful spots
- A feeling of looking through water or heat waves
Those that experience migraine auras without a headache generally experience these visual symptoms—the only difference is that the visual disturbances are not followed by head pain.3 The migraine aura symptoms may change in the first five minutes of the aura and are generally preceded by a build-up of symptoms.1 In the case of a migraine aura without a headache, the aura symptoms tend to last for 20 to 30 minutes.3 A migraine aura without a headache will be experienced in both eyes, rather than just one.1
If you’re unsure that the symptoms you’re experiencing are related to migraine aura, you can get a diagnosis from a medical professional.4 Doctors can perform eye exams, computed tomography (CT) scans of the head, or magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) to confirm your aura symptoms and make sure they’re not indicating a more serious condition.4
What Causes a Migraine Aura Without a Headache?
Factors that can trigger a migraine aura without a headache are the same factors that trigger one that’s followed by head pain—stress, weather changes, food with MSG, light, and demographic factors that increase a person’s risk of migraines like genetics.3,4 However, while the trigger factors of migraine auras with and without headaches are the same, research on why some experience auras without head pain is still ongoing.3
How Common Are Migraine Auras Without Headaches?
In general, it’s more common for a migraine aura to be followed by a headache than not. Only 4 percent of those that suffer from migraines report experiencing migraine auras without migraine headaches.1 The two age groups more likely to experience this phenomenon are younger adults in their 20s and 30s and older adults in their 40s, 50s, and 60s.1 It’s also possible that you will stop experiencing head pain with your migraines as you age. Research shows that 40 percent of those that used to experience migraine auras with head pain no longer experience the pain symptoms later in life.1
How to Manage a Migraine Aura
Even if you’re experiencing a migraine aura without head pain, the symptoms can still be uncomfortable and disruptive. Luckily, there are a few treatment methods you can try to help relieve the severity of your migraine symptoms.
Take a Pain Reliever
Taking a pain reliever that contains ingredients like acetaminophen and aspirin can help lessen aura symptoms and any accompanying pain.4
Try Supplementing Magnesium
Taking magnesium supplements may help break a visual migraine aura.4
Take Other Nutritional Supplements like CoQ10 and Riboflavin
Some people find that supplementing with the nutrients can help diminish the severity and frequency of migraines.4
Practice Healthy Lifestyle Habits
Although there’s no one-to-one lifestyle modification that stops the experience of migraine auras without headaches, there are modifications you can make that may help prevent them. Make sure to get enough sleep and take steps to manage your stress levels.1 You should also avoid known migraine triggers if you have them.1
Find More Migraine Resources
While it’s known that a person can experience a migraine aura without the accompanying headache, the reasons why this may occur are still being researched. For more information on migraine causes and prevention tips, explore our migraine resource hub.