What Is Migraine with Aura?
Many migraine patients notice a prodrome, a symptom that signals the beginning of a migraine. The prodrome phase is experienced by 30-40% of people with migraine headaches and tends to occur 24-48 hours before a migraine. It can include symptoms such as yawning, fatigue, and mood changes.
Following the prodrome phase can be the migraine aura which occurs in about 15-20% of people with migraines. The most common are visual auras, but they can include motor, sensory and even verbal disturbances. This phenomenon usually doesn’t include bodily weakness.
Migraine with Aura Symptoms
A visual aura is best described as a chemical or electrical wave moving across the brain’s visual cortex. The wave is one of decreased neuronal activity. As the wave progresses, the patient loses normal vision functions. The visual auras are different for every patient. They may look like lines across your vision, like a hole in the center of your gaze or even like growing shapes covering your eyesight. Visual auras can last anywhere from five minutes to an hour. Some patients also experience scotoma, or a temporary loss of vision. Other signs of migraine with aura may include:
- Sensory aura: tingling in one side of the body or face, numbness or paresthesia. Nearly half of all migraine sufferers experience some kind of paresthesia.
- Auditory aura: changes in hearing including buzzing, ringing in the ears, and/or increased sensitivity to sound.
- Dysphasic aura: temporary speech or language problems.
Migraine with aura can also cause vertigo or dizziness, and some patients even experience this type of migraines without the usual accompanying headache. It can be a debilitating type of disorder, but usually responds well to certain medications and other treatments.
Diagnosing Migraine with Aura
The symptoms of this kind of migraine often resemble those of more serious conditions, such that diagnostic tests are recommended, especially for those patients who don’t experience a headache along with the other symptoms. Some of the more common conditions doctors test for are transient ischemic attacks (referred to as TIAs), stroke and retinal tears. A thorough examination will include an MRI, a CT scan and an eye examination. If all other tests come up negative, a diagnosis of migraine with aura is made.
Migraine with Aura Treatment
There is no permanent cure for migraine with aura. The treatment recommended by your headache specialist will vary, depending on each individual’s symptoms and the underlying causes for the condition.
Medication for migraine with aura is usually based on the frequency of the migraines. For infrequent occurrences, over-the-counter pain relief medication, prescription non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs and anti-nausea medication are usually recommended. For those patients with more acute cases, doctors most often prescribe triptans. In the worst cases in which migraine occurs more than 15 days a month, Botox has proven to be effective for many patients.
Pharmacological relief is just one part of most people’s migraine with aura treatment. Migraine treatment can be as much psychological as it is physical, and can be due to dealing with disease and family/work demands or another stressful situation that is worsening the symptoms. Your doctor may set appointments for you with specialists in acupuncture or biofeedback, which offers relief for some people with migraines. If your condition is causing depression or other serious psychological symptoms, psychological intervention might be appropriate.
Coping mechanisms are important for all migraine sufferers. Even if doctors can’t relieve 100 percent of the pain and the other symptoms involved, there are alternative therapies that make it easier for you to deal with the symptoms. Massage therapy can make the rest of your body feel better in relation to your migraine symptoms; physical therapy can help with hemiplegic problems in walking and grasping; occupational therapy will give you insights into living a more normal life while dealing with the migraine symptoms. All three forms of therapy can help the headache sufferer break out of a chronic cycle. In almost all cases, patients with migraine with aura have problems sleeping. Sleep therapy, whether with acupuncture, massage or pharmacological methods, can be the additional key you need to function effectively with your condition.