Lightning-bolt lines. Shimmering stars. Flashes of light. Tingling hands. For many people with migraines, these phenomena — called aura — are some of the most distinctive symptoms of migraine.
About 30% of people with migraines experience these mysterious sensory disturbances. But what causes them? And is there a way to prevent aura or make it go away? Learn more about common migraine aura causes and treatment below.
What Is Aura?
Many people use the term aura in a new age sense to refer to a colored field of energy surrounding the body. However, a migraine aura differs because it’s a medical term used to describe a set of sensory symptoms that often precede a migraine attack.
Aura is experienced differently by different people and is not always visual. It may take the form of several symptoms, including visual auras, physical sensations or difficulty with speech and language:
- Visual auras: Common changes in vision that accompany migraine aura include blurry or blind spots in the field of vision, called scotomas, colored spots, bright stars, flashes of light, kaleidoscope or fireworks effects or a moving, growing geometric line that resembles the outline of a fort or fortification spectrum.
- Physical symptoms: Some people also experience physical sensations with their auras. Physical symptoms accompanying aura include numbness or tingling in the hands or feet, weakness on one side of the body, dizziness, vertigo or the sensation of pins and needles in the arms and legs. Very rarely, people also may faint or experience partial paralysis.
- Speech and language difficulties: Sometimes, people who have migraines experience difficulty with speech, such as struggling to find the correct words or mumbling or slurring their words.
- Other common symptoms: Beyond visual, physical and linguistic symptoms, some migraine sufferers with aura experience hallucinations, changes in their memory or feelings of fear or confusion.
Many people with migraine aura have created artwork — whether physical or digital — to show others what they experience. The paintings of artist Priya Rama, for instance, depict fields of bright colors and patterns like raindrops coming down.
What Causes Migraine With Aura?
Researchers believe migraine aura is initiated by cortical spreading depression, a phenomenon in the brain where cortical neurons stop firing, sparking a series of brain reactions that cause aura. Usually, a migraine attack follows aura. However, people can experience aura without a headache in some cases, commonly called an ocular migraine.
Many factors can cause you to experience a migraine aura, including:
- Increased stress levels or chronic stress
- Sleep pattern changes, including a lack of sleep or sleeping too much
- Hormonal changes in women
- Food consumption, including skipping meals or eating highly processed foods or drinking beverages with alcohol, especially wine, or excessive caffeine
- Exposure to bright light, such as strong sunlight
- Intense physical activity that causes overexertion
- Certain medications like oral contraceptives or high blood pressure vasodilators
- Strong smells from substances like smoke, perfume or gas
- Weather and aromatic pressure changes
Certain demographic information also might impact whether you’re more likely to experience migraines. Women are three times more likely to experience migraines than men, while people between 18 and 44 most commonly suffer from migraines. Also, about 9 in 10 people who have regular migraines have a family history of migraines.
A stroke can sometimes cause the symptoms of aura. If you’re experiencing aura for the first time or have unfamiliar symptoms, see your healthcare provider right away. While migraines with auras might be more common as you age, you should see a healthcare provider if you’re older than 40 and experience migraine aura for the first time.
Can You Prevent Aura?
Aura is short-lived, typically lasting no more than an hour. Aura on its own is not dangerous unless you’re driving or engaged in another activity that requires you to see clearly. If you’re behind the wheel when aura symptoms begin, pull over and make sure you’re in a safe place.
Many people with migraines want to know the best treatment for migraines with aura. There’s no way to stop aura symptoms on their own. Still, preventive migraine treatments can reduce the incidence of attacks, and abortive migraine treatments can reduce the severity of an attack.
Some people regularly rely on over-the-counter or prescription medications to prevent migraines with aura. Common medication treatments for migraine with aura include:
- Anti-inflammatory pain relievers
- Relief medications like Excedrin Migraine
- Anti-nausea medications to reduce nausea and vomiting
- Opioids and codeine medications
- Dihydroergotamines and triptans that block pain signals in the brain
However, some individuals prefer a drug-free migraine treatment program. The CEFALY DUAL Enhanced system uses an electrode to access the trigeminal nerve under the skin of the forehead. You can use the hour-long ACUTE setting during a migraine attack, and the 20-minute PREVENT setting daily. While the sessions are pain-free, some people take some time to get used to the device. You can also change the intensity to maximize the benefits of your treatment.
Alleviate Your Migraine Symptoms With CEFALY
CEFALY DUAL Enhanced offers both preventive treatments and support during a migraine attack. It’s the first device of its type to be cleared by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) for acute and preventive treatment of migraine with or without aura in patients 18 years of age or older. CEFALY comes with fewer side effects than other treatments and doesn’t require a prescription.
We also offer free shipping for all devices and a 60-day money back guarantee. Try CEFALY’s DUAL Enhanced migraine treatment and protection toolkit for free for five days with nok to experience the benefits of CEFALY yourself.
Reviewed by: Deena E. Kuruvilla, MD, a board-certified neurologist and the director of the Westport Headache Institute, where she employs a holistic biopsychosocial approach to diagnosis and treatment. She held clinical appointments at the Yale University School of Medicine prior to starting her own practice and has authored many articles, book chapters, and research publications.