Aura, often referred to as the “warning sign” of migraine can be a variety of sensory disturbances that occur prior to a migraine attack. Aura usually last 20-60 minutes and only affects approximately 25-30 % of people with migraine.
Aura can consist of visual disturbances such as seeing spots, flashes, zig zags, stars, or loss of vision. Aura can also present as sensory changes including tingling or numbness in the face, body, hands, and fingers. Speech or language disturbances can also be a form of aura. For example, being unable to produce the right words, slurring or mumbling words.
Aura is a result of hyper-excited nerves in the brain. When these excited nerves are activated in the visual processing areas of the brain, the patient experiences the visual symptoms of aura. When these excited nerves are activated in other areas of the brain, other symptoms may occur.
The majority of migraines with aura are not due to a worrisome underlying problem but be cautious and aware of certain “red flag” that may indicated seeking additional medical attention. Red flags include an immediate onset of symptoms or symptoms lasting longer than 60 minutes. Additional warning signs include weakness on one side of the body, change in consciousness or level of alertness.
It is also important to be aware of the fact that migraine with aura can increases the risk of stroke. As a result, treating other stroke risk factors and avoiding certain medications (such as estrogen containing birth control) is important and should be discussed with a physician.
Fun Fact: Lewis Carroll the author of Alice in Wonderland had migraine with aura. His aura consisted of visual disturbances which inspired his writing.
– Caroline Pruski, NP