Migraine aura symptoms include temporary visual or sensory disturbances that usually strike before other 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
Most people who experience migraine with aura develop temporary visual signs and symptoms of aura. 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 or vision loss
- Flashes of light
These types of visual disturbances tend to start in the center of your field of vision and spread outward.
Other sensory disturbances
Other temporary sensations sometimes associated with migraine 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
See your doctor immediately 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. Your doctor will need to rule out more-serious conditions, such as a stroke or retinal tear.
Once these conditions are ruled out, you won't need to see your doctor about future migraines unless your symptoms change.
The cause of migraine with aura isn't clearly understood. It's believed that the migraine with visual aura is like an electrical or chemical wave that moves across the part of your brain that processes visual signals (visual cortex) and causes these visual hallucinations.
Many of the same factors that trigger migraine can also trigger migraine with aura, including stress, bright lights, some foods and medications, too much or too little sleep, and menstruation.
Although no specific factors appear to increase the risk of migraine with 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.