Many people who suffer migraine attacks know when their headache is coming when aura arrives. So they get a window to act fast and take necessary medication for better relief.
Wavy lines, flashing lights, tingling-all those who have migraines, these and many other sensations, known as aura, signals that migraine is about to occur. While auras can be bit unnerving, they actually act as a fire alarm; telling you to take your migraine medication right away and possibly stop the attack before it begins or reduce its severity.
About 36 percent of migrianeurs experience migraine with aura. Most of them will experience visual disturbance 8-60 minutes before their headache begins.
The aura that precedes a migraine attack can take different forms. You might see:
- Flashing lights and colors
- Wavy or jagged lines in a zig-zag pattern
- Blind spots or partial loss of vision
- Distortions of the size, shape, and location of fixed objects
Sometimes you might also experience:
- Numbness in face
- You may feel as if you’re about to fall
- Your speech might get slurred
- You may feel like needles and pins are moving all around downwards to your arm
Migraine Aura: Is it Dangerous?
Most medical experts feel that it’s not dangerous. Scientists took images of people experiencing an aura and found that aura happens due to an electrical phenomenon that involves nerves in the brain. Whether a person with migraine will experience an aura or not will depend on which of the patient’s brain has sensitive nerve cells.
Due to repeated stimulation, sensitive nerve cells may generate flashy lights or zig zag lines within the visual range that builds up and subsides over time. So when the nerve cells suddenly begin firing off, they may trigger an activity that may lead to those visual and other disturbances.
So an aura is an early warning to you that your migraine is coming. You can discuss this with your doctor and can take migraine medication right away.
Migraine Aura and Risk of Stroke
Migraine aura is quite similar to symptoms that people with mini-stroke, or a transient ischemic attack, feel. A migraine aura occurs when your blood vessels are temporarily blocked, but usually cause no lasting damage.
“This phenomenon can be devastating for some, and they may think they are having a stroke,” says Nicholas Diamond, executive chairman of National Headache Foundation, and also the director of the Diamond Headache Clinic. The way to clearly tell the difference, Dr. Diamond says, is that with a migraine aura, the feeling with slowly travel down the arm, and if a person is experiencing a stroke, the sensation would affect the entire arm, at once.
Past research suggests that there may be a link between a migraine aura and stroke, especially in women above 40. And this link between migraines with visual auras and stroke is even stronger in women who used oral contraceptives and smoked.
So what’s the connection between a stroke and aura? According to one theory, the aura slows down blood flow and also increases blood clotting factors, increasing potential for blocked blood vessels. Though there is no risk of stroke during actual aura, the inflamed blood vessels may remain that way for some time after the aura has passed, creating a risk for arterial damage and hardening.
All those who get auras with mild, infrequent attacks are at lowest risk, while those who get severe, lengthy attacks for years, use oral contraceptives or smoke are at the highest risk. However, number of people who get visual auras and suffer a stroke is relatively low, and more research is needed in this before a definitely answer is found about any direct link between auras and stroke.
So, is it necessary to monitor migraine auras?
Many doctors closely monitor their patients with long history of length, severe attacks with auras because of their risk of stroke. K. Hoslen Welch, MD, President of the Rosalind Franklin University of Medicine and Science, based in Chicago, says he normally prescribes a baby aspirin, once a day to patients with severe visual migraine aura-not to ward off their migraine, but to somehow reduce their risk of stroke.
If you’re suffering from ocular migraine, don’t be surprised if your aura comes and goes; and don’t be surprised even if your aura comes and is not followed by a headache.
What’s important here is that all those who are old and never had an history of migraine and then start having migraine aura-like symptoms. In these circumstances, it’s important for the person to immediately see their doctor to rule out issues such as TIA and brain disorders.