What’s a Migraine Aura?

Migraine Insight

25–30% of people with migraines get an aura preceding the pain (if there’s any pain at all). So what’s an aura, and how do they present?

In this article

What’s an aura?

Before the attack

Auras can present in many ways

What’s an aura?

Aura is a term used to describe neurological symptoms that occur before the main attack of a migraine — most often visual disturbances like flashes of color or zig-zags. Aura symptoms emerge before the main migraine attack and tend to continue into the attack. Auras are a warning to migraine sufferers that a migraine is about to arrive.

Before the attack

By definition, auras always happen before an attack, but usually last throughout the attack. Symptoms are different for everyone, but some see lamps or lights as suddenly brighter or darker, halos around lights, or sparks or bright dots. Auras may also include tingling on one or both sides of the body, an inability to speak clearly, and general mental confusion. Auras usually last 20–60 minutes. Auras rarely occur with every migraine attack.

Auras come on suddenly or gradually — there’s no one-size-fits-all. It’s important to determine what type of headache or migraine you experience so you can better understand your symptoms and the progression of attacks. The most common types of migraine that may present with auras are ‘migraine with aura’, ‘migraine with brainstem aura’, hemiplegic migraine and retinal migraine. (See our article here for broader definitions.)

Auras can present in many ways. Some common symptoms include:

Vision changes: Blind spots or spotty vision, zigzag lines float across your field of vision, losing sight for short periods of time, flashes of light, fuzzy vision, or light ‘just looking different’ in a non-specific way.

Sensory changes: Tingling, zaps or numbness in the face, head, body, arms, hands or fingers. These sensations may move and are sometimes described as traveling from fingertips up towards the head.

Speech or language problems: Inability to find the right word, mumbling, slurred speech.

Emotional changes: Depressed mood or irritability.

Bodily changes: Muscle weakness or overall bodily fatigue.


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