People with migraine and aura
deal with frightening symptoms . . .
Discovering that you have migraine and aura may be a partial relief, because the symptoms can range from the severe to the bizarre, and you may think they're doing permanent damage. However, knowing what it is doesn't take away from the problem itself! So what causes aura in the first place?
In another article we discuss the cause of migraine, which may give us clues into the migraine and aura symptoms. In migraine, blood vessels and blood flow in your head is effected. For some time doctors have believes that decreased blood flow to brain cells (and so a decrease in oxygen) may cause aura. Doctors now also believe that over-excitement of the brain cells may also be a cause.
What is aura?
Aura refers to the symptoms that about 15-20% of migraineurs deal with before their headache begins (and sometimes during the headache as well). This is called the prodromal stage.* On the positive side, aura can give someone a warning that a severe headache is about to begin before it hits full force. In some people, though, the aura may be almost as bad as the migraine itself! (Note: Some put the % much higher. It's hard to estimate because some migraineurs are believed to experience aura hours or even days before the actual "headache".)
* Sometimes this is broken into two stages, prodromal, and aura. The prodromal stage may last a day or more, and the aura stage is usually just a few minutes. Both stages are considered together in this article.
Yes, but what exactly is it?!
Migraine and aura may both include a number of symptoms or a combination of symptoms (you can find out more about other symptoms of migraines here). If you've heard anything about aura, you've heard that some migraineurs have visual disturbances: they may see flashing lights, jagged lines, circles, squares, or distortions of things they see. Objects may seem further away or closer. Visual distortions due to migraine have been said to have inspired Lewis Carroll in his book Through the Looking Glass. You can get it from Amazon for a couple of dollars – it makes an interesting read if you suffer from migraines! - Check it out!
But aura can go beyond this to things like dizziness, ringing in the ears, trouble focusing, slurred speech or trouble finding the right word when you talk (aphasia). You may smell an odour that isn't there (some migraineurs just will not be convinced that they don't have horrible BO!). Some have numbness or tingling in hands, feet or lips (lasting about 20 minutes). Yawning. Thirst. Irritability or euphoria. Stiff neck. Some people just have a gradually coming on "not right" feeling, or wake up feeling like they've been "hit by a train." In rare cases even amnesia or advanced hallucinations. You can imagine how many of these symptoms could be quite frightening if you're experiencing them for the first time!
The book Migraine and other Headaches by Drs Young and Silberstein has an excellent description of migraine and aura and how to tell what you have.
Along with other symptoms of migraine, the aura has often been expressed in art (particularly the visual auras). If you want to get a better idea what the visual aura is really like, take a look at some of this migraine aura art.
How long does aura last?
Usually between 20-40 minutes before the migraine begins. Migraine and aura are linked so that many sufferers have more aura symptoms during the migraine as well. Some even get aura without the actual migraine pain (silent migraine or migraine aura without headache)! Whatever the case, the same treatments will probably need to be investigated. The true "prodromal" stage may start a day or two before the headache, and usually consists of the symptoms of feeling "under the weather" or irritable, or just tired.
What can I do about migraine and aura?
First, work with your doctor. She will first attempt to rule out problems that can cause serious permanent damage to your body (such as glaucoma, in which there is severe pressure and pain in one eye).
Your doctor may prescribe a medication for you. For many people, this will eliminate or alleviate the symptoms of both migraine and aura. Other people may have to live with the symptoms for a while (wander around thiswebsite for migraine-killing ideas! Also an excellent resource on migraine and aura and other symptoms is Conquering Your Migraine by Dr Seymour Diamond).
Keep on the lookout for sudden changes in the migraine and aura pattern, and talk to your doctor again. She's there to help, so if she brushes you off or won't listen, find another doctor or consider a headache specialist. Don't let migraine and aura stop you from living!