Migraine aura symptoms include temporary visual or sensory disturbances that typically precede the usual migraine symptoms — such as intense head pain, nausea, and sensitivity to light and sound. Migraine aura usually occurs within an hour before head pain begins and generally lasts less than 60 minutes. Sometimes migraine aura occurs with little or no headache, especially in people age 50 and older.
Visual signs and symptoms
The majority of people who experience migraine aura develop visual signs and symptoms. These may include:
- Blind spots (scotomas), which are sometimes outlined by simple geometric designs
- Zigzag lines that gradually float across your field of vision
- Shimmering spots or stars
- Changes in vision
- Flashes of light
These types of visual disturbances tend to start in the center of your visual field and move outward, or spread.
Other sensory disturbances
Other temporary sensations sometimes associated with aura include:
- Feelings of numbness, typically felt as tingling in one hand or in your face
- Difficulty with speech or language
- Muscle weakness
When to see a doctor
If you experience the signs and symptoms of migraine with aura, such as temporary vision loss or floating spots or zigzag lines in your field of vision, see your doctor immediately to rule out more serious conditions, such as stroke or retinal tear. Once these conditions are ruled out, future migraines with aura won't require a visit to your doctor, unless your symptoms change.
The cause of migraine with aura isn't clearly understood. It's believed that the visual aura that may accompany migraine is like an electrical or chemical wave that moves across the part of your brain that processes visual signals (visual cortex). As the wave spreads, it may cause these visual hallucinations.
Many of the same factors that trigger migraine can also trigger migraine with aura, including stress, bright lights, too much or too little sleep, and menstruation.
Although no specific factors appear to put you at risk for migraine aura, migraines in general seem to be more common in people with a family history of migraine. Migraines are also more common in women than men.
People who have migraine with aura are at a slightly higher risk of stroke. Women who have migraine with aura appear to have an even higher risk of stroke if they smoke or take birth control pills.