The Mighty Logo

How Long Do Migraine Auras Last?

The most helpful emails in health
Browse our free newsletters

Migraine auras are transient neurological symptoms, often visual, that typically arise before the headache phase of a migraine episode. They’re part of the migraine process and not separate events. The typical aura duration varies but often precedes the pain phase by 20 minutes to an hour.

Symptoms Indicative of Migraine Aura

When a migraine aura unfolds, it’s as if you’re receiving a signal that a migraine episode is about to make its presence felt. You might notice specific changes that herald the coming of the headache phase. These symptoms are typically sensory or visual and can serve as a clear indicator of what’s to come. Here are some of the symptoms you might experience:

  • Visual disturbances: You may see various shapes, bright spots, or flashes of light. Some people describe seeing zigzag lines or waves, similar to the patterns on an oscilloscope. These visual phenomena often start small and increase in size, sometimes creating an area in your vision that’s shimmering or obscured by a blind spot.
  • Sensory changes: Auras can also involve other senses. You might feel a tingling sensation or pins-and-needles in your hands or face, which can be unnerving. These sensations often migrate slowly across your body, adding to the aura’s disconcerting nature.
  • Speech and language issues (transient aphasia): Difficulty speaking or finding the right words is another facet of migraine auras.
  • Motor weakness: In rarer instances, a migraine aura can include feelings of weakness, particularly on one side of the body. This can be alarming, as it may mimic conditions like a stroke.
  • Auditory hallucinations or changes: Sounds may seem unusually loud, or you might hear noises that aren’t there. Although less common than visual symptoms, auditory disturbances can also be a part of the aura experience.
  • Olfactory hallucinations: Some people report smelling odors that aren’t present during an aura. These olfactory hallucinations can range from pleasant to unpleasant.
  • Cognitive disturbances: There may be moments of confusion, or you might find it difficult to concentrate or perform routine tasks during a migraine aura.

The Timeline of a Migraine Aura

Auras act as an unwelcome forewarning, their progression giving you insight into the onset of the actual migraine attack.

  • Start: A migraine aura often begins gradually. It’s not an instantaneous occurrence but rather unfolds over several minutes. This initial phase can be subtle, with the visual or sensory changes just becoming noticeable.
  • Peak: After their onset, aura symptoms typically intensify, reaching a peak. This is when the symptoms are most pronounced and can be the most disruptive to your activities. For visual auras, the bright spots or zigzag patterns are most vivid and extensive during this phase.
  • Duration: A typical migraine aura lasts between 5 and 60 minutes. It’s a transient journey that, while brief in the grand scheme, can feel quite prolonged if you’re experiencing it. Most auras will last at least several minutes, giving you a narrow window to act if you have treatments or strategies that can lessen the migraine’s impact.
  • End: As unnervingly as they begin, auras usually fade away gradually. The symptoms generally don’t stop abruptly but dissipate, with the visual disturbances slowly clearing and sensory changes subsiding. It’s at this point that the headache phase of the migraine may begin, although some people may experience a subtype of migraine without the headache that typically follows.

While these are average experiences, your migraine aura may not adhere strictly to this pattern. Some people might have an aura that lasts longer or shorter than the typical duration, and in some instances, the aura might not progress linearly.

Average Duration of Migraine Auras

  • Typical Range: Most migraine auras last between 5 to 60 minutes. This is considered the standard timeframe for the neurological symptoms preceding the headache phase of a migraine attack.
  • Statistical Norms: Research, including studies cited by the American Migraine Foundation, reinforces this duration as the normative range for most people with migraine.
  • Variability: While the average sits within that one-hour window, your experience may vary. Some factors, such as medication or the intensity of the migraine attack, may influence the duration of your aura.

Extremes in Aura Duration

If you are experiencing extreme variations in aura duration, particularly prolonged auras, it’s advisable to consult a health care provider. Such changes can occasionally signal other neurological issues that may require medical attention.

  • Short-lived auras: In some cases, you might experience what’s known as a “flash aura,” where the visual or sensory changes last only a few minutes.
  • Prolonged auras: On the other end of the spectrum, some people report auras that extend beyond the one-hour mark. If you find your aura persisting well past an hour, it may indicate a more unusual migraine episode, known as a persistent aura without infarction.

Whether brief or extended, the duration of a migraine aura can impact your routine. A prolonged aura might interfere more substantially with your activities and can be more alarming.

Factors Influencing Migraine Aura Duration

The duration of a migraine aura can vary widely due to several factors:

  • High stress can trigger longer and more intense auras.
  • Both insufficient and excessive sleep can prolong aura phases.
  • Dehydration and certain foods may extend auras.
  • Intense exercise might increase aura duration for some people.
  • Hormonal fluctuations can impact the length of a migraine aura.
  • Some drugs can alter the duration of auras, both prescription and over-the-counter.
  • Bright lights or loud sounds may intensify and lengthen auras.
  • Other health issues, especially neurological or cardiovascular, can influence aura duration.
  • Inherited factors can play a role in how long auras last.

Medications and Treatments Affecting Aura Duration

Medications and treatments can have a significant impact on the duration of migraine auras. Here’s a brief overview of how some treatments may influence your experience:

  • Preventive medications: Medications like beta-blockers, anticonvulsants, or antidepressants, which are used to prevent migraine episodes, can also reduce the frequency and duration of migraine auras.
  • Triptans: Often used at the onset of a migraine attack, triptans can sometimes abort a migraine aura or significantly shorten its duration.
  • CGRP antagonists: These newer medications specifically target the calcitonin gene-related peptide pathway, which is involved in migraine attacks. CGRP antagonists can reduce both the severity and duration of migraine and their associated auras.
  • Anti-inflammatory drugs: These can be effective in reducing the duration of both migraine pain and aura, especially when taken early on.
  • Magnesium: Some studies suggest that magnesium supplementation may help reduce aura frequency and duration, possibly due to its role in nerve function and blood circulation.
  • Botox injections: For chronic migraine, Botox injections have been shown to decrease the number of headache days and may also affect the presence and duration of auras.
  • Lifestyle interventions: While not medications, lifestyle interventions like regular exercise, adequate hydration, and a consistent sleep schedule can indirectly influence the effectiveness of drugs and the overall duration of auras.

Documenting Your Migraine Aura Duration

Tracking your migraine attacks and aura duration can be a vital tool for managing your migraine episodes effectively. Note the date, start time, and end time of each aura. Include details about the nature of the visual disturbances and any other sensory symptoms. Record potential triggers or activities before the onset and any medications taken. Consider migraine tracking apps that allow for easy recording and can help identify patterns over time.

When Migraine Aura Duration Is a Concern

It would help if you were alert to changes in your migraine aura duration, as these can sometimes be a signal of other health issues or a need to adjust your treatment plan. Here’s when to be concerned:

  • If there’s a marked increase or decrease in how long your aura lasts compared to your established pattern.
  • Auras that last more than one hour can be concerning.
  • New or unusual symptoms, like weakness or difficulty speaking, accompanying the aura need immediate medical attention.
  • If the aura occurs without the subsequent headache, which is atypical for you, it’s worth seeking medical advice.
  • An increase in the frequency of auras, especially if they interfere with your daily life, should prompt a medical review.

Managing Life with Migraine Auras

Managing life with migraine auras involves strategies that cater to both the physical and psychological aspects of living with migraine. Here’s how you can navigate your daily life while dealing with auras:

  • Stick to a consistent daily routine.
  • Practice stress-reducing techniques like meditation.
  • Watch your diet and hydration to avoid triggers.
  • Take screen breaks to lessen visual strain.
  • Make your workspace migraine-friendly.
  • Inform your support circle about your migraine needs.
  • Join migraine support communities.
  • Collaborate with your doctor for a personalized migraine plan.

Understanding your migraine auras is critical to managing them effectively. Keep a close eye on patterns, consult your doctor regularly, and stay in charge of your well-being.

Getty image by nadia bormotova

Originally published: November 8, 2023
Want more of The Mighty?
You can find even more stories on our Home page. There, you’ll also find thoughts and questions by our community.
Take Me Home