What is the aura of a migraine?

An aura is a part of the migraine that indicates a hyperprofusion of blood flow in the brain. In this video, Adel Olshansky, MD, a neurologist at West Hills Hospital, describes visual auras that occur before the actual headache.

Some people get an early warning signal that a migraine is headed their way. Their migraines are preceded by an aura. The auras can be colored or white lights that flicker at the edge of sight, hallucinations, dark or blind spots at the edge of vision, or tingling or numbness-generally in the face or hands. Aura symptoms can start as little as a few minutes, or as long a few days, before the migraine pain is felt.

With some people, there is no aura, but they can experience euphoria or other mild symptoms before the migraine pain begins.

The aura of migraine headache is a neurologic dysfunction and can encompass or embody any part of the Central Nervous System. You can have a disorder of thinking, vision, hearing, speaking, as well as disorder of smelling. During the migraine headache there can be photophobia (light sensitivity), phonophobia (sound sensitivity), and osmophobia (smelling bad things or having a disorder of smell). This needs to have preventative treatment and not be treated with acute medications.

Before the onset of headache pain, 10 percent to 20 percent of migraine sufferers experience a 10- to 60-minute aura. An aura is thought to result from the narrowing (constriction) of blood vessels in the brain. The location of the diminished blood supply determines the specific aura symptoms experienced.

A migraine aura is usually, but not always, visual. Examples of visual aura symptoms include the following:
  • silver streaks
  • white lights
  • light objects appearing excessively bright
  • all objects appearing gray or yellow
  • distortion of all linear objects
  • dancing and moving cobwebs
  • moving black veils
  • scintillating picket fences
  • silver stars
  • heat waves
  • flashing gold lights
  • Fourth of July sparklers
  • zigzag streaks of light
  • herringbone patterns
  • double vision
  • blind spots

Auras may also be experienced as numbness and tingling in the face, arms, or legs. Some migraine sufferers experience weakness, slurred speech, or even brief paralysis.

An aura is a neurologic symptom that is associated with a migraine headache either immediately preceding or during a migraine attack. It can last from 5-60 minutes. The most common aura is visual -- seeing flashing lights, zigzag lines or losing part of your vision. However, auras can also be sensory, such as a pins/needles feeling in the hand or face; motor, with weakness of a hand or arm; or involve speech, such as confusing or slurring words.

An aura phase refers to the sensation that some people experience before developing a migraine headache. The aura could take the form of colored lights and shapes, temporary vision loss, numbness, tingling, or voices. Aura symptoms can vary from person to person.

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Important: This content reflects information from various individuals and organizations and may offer alternative or opposing points of view. It should not be used for medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. As always, you should consult with your healthcare provider about your specific health needs.