Bright dots and zig zags impacting your vision. Tingling on one side of your body. Struggling to express yourself clearly. If you experience any of these symptoms just before migraine pain begins, it’s very likely that you’re dealing with the separate and distinct stage of migraine known as aura.
What exactly is aura? Let’s take a look at all four typical and distinct stages that may occur during a migraine attack:
Interestingly, not everyone with migraine will experience all of these stages. And people who do experience aura may find that it doesn't necessarily accompany each and every one of their migraine episodes.
The cause of migraine aura is not yet fully understood. Scientists think it may be due to an electrical wave that moves across the visual cortex in the brain. This movement temporarily alters the blood flow, nerves, and chemicals in the brain, according to The Migraine Trust.
Aura is triggered by the same factors that can trigger an overall migraine episode, such as stress, too much or too little sleep, bright lights, certain foods and medications or, for women, their menstrual cycle.
Migraine aura can affect you in three different ways, according to the Cleveland Clinic:
The short answer is no. Although aura can feel alarming, it generally doesn't last long and is not dangerous. But if your aura symptoms manifest abruptly, last over an hour, or don't completely resolve, seek medical attention, says the AMF. Symptoms of aura can be very similar to those of a stroke, so if you suddenly experience aura symptoms and haven’t before, check with your healthcare professional right away.
A related caution: aura can slightly elevate stroke risk, according to the American Heart Association. Research presented at the American Stroke Association’s International Stroke Conference in 2016 found that people who’ve had migraine with aura were 2.4 times more likely to eventually have an ischemic stroke (one caused by a blood clot) than people who’ve had migraine without aura.
A 2020 study found that ischemic stroke in people with migraine and aura was associated with being young, female, using oral contraceptives, and smoking. So if you have migraine with aura, it's essential for you to lower any risk factors for stroke.
So, if you start to experience zigzag lines or flashes of light that tell you a migraine is underway, what’s the best way to treat it? The same way you would treat the migraine pain stage – at the first sign of aura symptoms, take your migraine medication as prescribed by your healthcare professional.
According to Mayo Clinic, that might include over-the-counter medications like aspirin and acetaminophen, or prescription triptans, dihydroergotamine, lasmiditan, and calcitonin gene-related peptide (CGRP) antagonists. If you also experience nausea or vomiting with migraine, your doctor may prescribe medication to manage that as well.
Researchers may never find a true cure for aura and migraine — one that works for everyone. But the best way to find a treatment that will work for you is by getting treatment individualized to your unique personal history and DNA.
Mable’s DNA test can provide valuable information about the genetic causes of your migraines, saving you months of experimenting with treatments that ultimately can’t or won’t work for you. Mable also offers you telehealth access to a doctor who will carefully review your DNA results and prescribe medication based on them.
For now, the customized approach you’ll get with Mable may be the closest to a migraine “cure” for you — your most informed, most effective treatment. Ready to get started? Take the Mable quiz.