What Is a Migraine Aura?


Quick Answer

An aura is a set of sensory symptoms individuals may experience before a migraine begins, explains Mayo Clinic. Auras often involve visual warning signs, such as flashes of light, blind spots or floating zigzag lines. A person may also experience facial or hand numbness or temporary speech disturbances.

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Other common aura symptoms include shimmering spots in front of the eyes and weakened muscles, according to Mayo Clinic. Migraine auras can start as early as an hour before the headache, and some auras occur without any noticeable pain or discomfort. Physicians believe women are more likely to have auras, while men and women have an increased risk of developing them if they are overweight or the condition affects other family members.

WebMD estimates that only 20 percent of migraines are preceded by auras. The cause of migraines and auras is unknown. However, scientific research suggests imbalances of dopamine and serotonin trigger an immune system response that sends blood cells flooding through the brain's blood vessels. As a result, constricting blood vessels and the release of response chemicals produce pulsing headache pain and disorientation.

Migraines with and without auras are typically triggered by the same environmental conditions, such as menstruation, stress and lack of sleep, notes Mayo Clinic. At-home treatment for migraines with auras usually involves taking prescription or over-the-counter pain medication as soon as sensory symptoms appear to initiate pain relief before the headache begins.

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