Migraine with Aura (MWA) occurs in 25-30 percent of people who suffer from migraines, making it the second most common type of migraine. An MWA episode is characterized by a kind of visual or neurological disturbance that precedes the actual migraine attack. Although it is a common type of migraine, a person diagnosed with MWA does not necessarily experience the aura phase every time he or she has a migraine. This is why a person can be diagnosed with both MWA and MWOA (Migraine without Aura). It is also possible for the aura to occur on its own, without any headaches following it. In cases like these, it is still considered a migraine, albeit a painless one.
Symptoms and Causes of Migraine with Aura
The aura phase of a migraine usually happens several minutes to an hour before the actual migraine, and can last for an hour or less. It acts as sort of an early warning signal, although it isn’t clear why this happens. Painless migraines can also occur when no headaches follow after the onset of the aura phase. The symptoms of the aura phase are usually visual in nature and they include:
- Light flashes
- Zigzag lines floating across a person’s field of vision
- Blind spots which are occasionally outlined by simple geometric shapes
- Seeing bright spots or stars
- Vision changes
Aside from the visual disturbances, the aura phase can also bring about symptoms of other sensory disturbances such as numbness and tingling in the hands and face, slurred speech, and weakness of the muscles. People who have been diagnosed with MWA often know that a headache is about to begin once they’ve experienced any of these visual and neurological disturbances. If you’ve experienced any of these symptoms which may or may not be followed by a terrible headache, you may be suffering from MWA, consult a doctor or headache specialist immediately for proper diagnosis and treatment.
The actual cause of Migraine with Aura is still unclear; however, it is a popular belief that the aura that precedes the actual headache is sort of a chemical or electrical wave that moves across the brain’s visual cortex. The wave spreads out and triggers visual hallucinations. Another possible cause for the visual disturbance experienced by MWA patients is that a number of migraine triggers such as bright lights, stress, fatigue and irregular sleeping patterns can also trigger the aura.
Treatment for Migraine with Aura
Treatment for all migraine headaches is generally the same. The only difference is that when the aura phase precedes the actual migraine, it is possible to pre-empt the migraine attack by taking prescription migraine medication (see this article about ways to prevent addiction) or over-the-counter analgesics as soon as the symptoms of the aura phase begins. By pre-empting the migraine, it is possible not to feel the full impact of the headache or not to feel the headache at all because there’s no need to wait for the medications to take effect to feel relief.
If you’re experiencing any type of headache pain, schedule an appointment with one of our headache specialists immediately for proper diagnosis and treatment.