Migraine with Aura: Everything You Need to Know

The "aura" is a pre-migraine condition. For this reason, it is considered to be a warning sign. In some people they are auditory signs, in others they are visual or mixed.
Migraine with Aura: Everything You Need to Know

Written by Maite Córdova Vena, 06 August, 2021

Last update: 06 August, 2021

When a person has a severe headache, dizziness, vomiting, and increased sensitivity to light, smells, and sounds, difficulty with language, and other very bothersome symptoms, it’s usually due to a migraine with aura. But what is it exactly?

We can define migraine with aura as one that can produce various sensory changes. In some cases, it may only affect vision, whereas in others it can influence their hearing more. Quite often it can also affect several senses at the same time.

Symptoms of migraine with aura

Like what happens in other types, a migraine with aura involves a throbbing headache that can range from moderate to severe. The discomfort may begin on one side of the head and spread to the other, or affect only one.

The headache is accompanied by symptoms that also appear in other types of migraine, such as dizziness, nausea, vomiting, pain or stiffness in the neck, and difficulty concentrating. As a whole, there’s an increased sensitivity to sensory input.

Depending on the stimulus that produces most discomfort, we can speak of a migraine with a visual aura or a migraine with a sensory aura (which in turn can be auditory, language or motor).

Although the symptoms are very annoying and cause some anxiety, they’re temporary and reversible. They can get worse with physical exertion. For this reason, people often need to retreat to a dark, cool, and quiet room.

  • Visual aura: Many people with migraine headaches with aura see irregular, bright, or flashing lights, or moving flashes. They may notice a blind spot with flickering edges (as if they were losing their sight).
  • Sensory aura: This includes tingling, numbness, or weakness in an arm or leg, as well as the jaw. It can occur in the following ways:
    • Auditory: The person notices ringing in the ears or has auditory hallucinations (they think they hear music or noises that don’t exist).
    • Language: The person has difficulty understanding others, as well as problems remembering a specific word that they want to say.
    • Motor: This can prevent the person from moving their body or some parts of the body.
Ringing in the ears in migraine with aura.
A ringing in the ears can be part of the auditory aura in migraine headaches.

Causes

As explained in the MSD Manual, some people seem to have a more sensitive nervous system than others. In them, nerve cells in the brain are more easily stimulated, resulting in unusual electrical activity.

As this activity spreads throughout the brain, several temporary changes occur. This is how the symptoms that we call aura are caused, prior to the headache.

The migraine headache would be, in itself, the product of a stimulation of the trigeminal nerve. This nerve releases substances that cause inflammation in the cerebral blood vessels and in the layers of tissue that cover the brain (meninges). This explains the throbbing headache, nausea, vomiting, and sensitivity to light and sound.

Diagnosis of migraine with aura

To arrive at the diagnosis of migraine with aura, the neurologist can be based on the review of the symptoms, on the physical examination, and, of course, on the medical history. And if you consider it necessary, you can request blood tests, lumbar puncture, or images.

Prevention

As in other types of migraines, you can apply day-to-day self-care to prevent attacks. These involve maintaining healthy lifestyle habits and relying on relaxation techniques and managing stress and emotional tension.

Keeping a migraine diary is helpful. The patient learns to identify what triggers the discomfort and to design strategies to avoid it.

As indicated in various studies, it has been confirmed that yoga is one of the disciplines that contributes the most to both the prevention and the relief of migraines. This is because it helps potential holistic wellness.

Yoga to prevent migraine.
Migraine prevention uses stress management to avoid anxious triggers.

Treatment of migraine with aura

As indicated in an update on the subject published by the Colombian Neurology Association, the choice of treatment depends on the severity and frequency of the attacks. It’s also important to assess associated symptoms, the efficacy of medications, coexisting disorders, and the response to previous treatments. It’s no less important to consider the abuse potential of the prescribed drugs.

For all these reasons, the approach is a personalized one. The medications are the same as those prescribed for the common migraine. However, a series of self-care and prevention measures are usually recommended so that the person can maintain a good quality of life.

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