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Why Am I Suddenly Seeing Migraine Auras?

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Migraine auras are a notable symptom of migraine characterized by disturbances in vision and other senses. For some, the occurrence of these auras can be an alarming and perplexing experience, particularly if it begins without warning.

Understanding Migraine Auras

Migraine auras are signs that a migraine headache may soon happen. These auras are usually visual changes or other sensations that start before the actual headache. They come on slowly, last five to 20 minutes, and go away after less than 60 minutes. It’s important for people who see or feel these changes to know what is happening, especially if it’s their first time.

Types of Migraine Auras

  • Visual Auras:
    • Flashes of light: Sudden bright spots or sparks that appear in vision; these flashes may be multicolored.
    • Zigzag lines and patterns: Wavy or jagged lines that can disrupt your field of vision.
    • Blind spots: Areas in your vision where you can’t see anything.
  • Sensory Auras:
    • Tingling: A pins-and-needles feeling, usually starting in the hand and moving up to the arm.
    • Numbness: A loss of feeling that may spread from the hand to the face and tongue.

Migraine Aura Symptoms

With auras, people might also experience:

  • Light sensitivity: Lights may seem too bright or painful.
  • Sound sensitivity: Loud or sudden noises can be uncomfortable.
  • Speech problems: Difficulty in speaking or slurred speech temporarily.

The experience of seeing strange patterns or having changes in sight or touch can be scary if you don’t know what’s causing them. These are signs of a migraine aura and are usually followed by a headache. Understanding these signs helps people prepare for a migraine coming soon.

Causes of Sudden Onset of Migraine Auras

When people start to see or feel migraine auras all of a sudden, it can be for many reasons. These reasons can be about where you are, how you live, or your body’s health. Let’s discuss why these changes might happen and how they can bring on migraine auras.

Lifestyle and Environmental Triggers

Habits, lifestyle, and environment can all affect whether or not someone experiences migraine auras. Here are some common triggers:

  • Stress: Big stress can start migraine auras. When we are stressed, our body may respond by triggering a migraine.
  • Sleep changes: Not sleeping well or changing your sleep habits can lead to auras.
  • Eating habits: Some foods or drinks, or not eating on time, might trigger a migraine aura.
  • Hormones: For some, changes in the body’s hormones can cause auras to start happening.
  • Weather: Weather changes, like a coming storm or high places with thinner air, can bring on an aura.
  • Bright lights: Being in bright or flashing lights can make some people start seeing auras.
  • Strong smells: Smells that are very strong, like certain perfumes or smoke, might trigger a migraine aura.

Medical and Health Factors

Our bodies can react to health-related changes by experiencing migraine auras. Here are some health conditions and factors that might be the underlying cause of these symptoms.

  • Epilepsy: Having epilepsy can increase the chance of getting migraine auras.
  • Mood problems: People with anxiety or depression often report more migraine with auras.
  • Blood pressure: High blood pressure might trigger auras in some individuals.
  • Other illnesses: Catching another illness can sometimes lead to the start of migraine auras.
  • Medicines: Certain medicines might cause migraine auras as a side effect.

Understanding what might trigger migraine auras is essential for managing this condition. If sudden auras affect you, it’s important to pay attention to these potential causes and talk to a health care provider for advice and treatment options.

The Science Behind Migraine Auras

Recent neurological research provides insights into how and why migraine auras occur. These auras are believed to be caused by a wave of electrical activity spreading across the brain, known as cortical spreading depression. This phenomenon affects visual and sensory signals in the brain, leading to the symptoms experienced as auras.

Neurological Research on Auras

Studies utilizing brain imaging and electrophysiology have indicated that auras are linked with specific brain activity changes. These include alterations in blood flow and electrical activity patterns that can help pinpoint the origin and progression of auras within the brain’s structure.

The Role of Genetics in Migraine Auras

Genetics can play a significant role in the susceptibility to migraine and auras. Research has demonstrated that individuals with a family history of migraine are more likely to experience these conditions themselves, suggesting an inherited predisposition to the disorder.

When to Seek Medical Advice

Seeing migraine auras for the first time or noticing a change in your usual migraine symptoms can be a sign that you need to see a doctor. It’s essential to get medical advice in these situations:

  • When auras are new: If you have never had migraine auras before and you start seeing flashes or patterns, you should see a doctor. New auras can mean there has been a change in your health.
  • Changes in pattern: If your auras change in how they look, how long they last, or how often they happen, it’s time to check in with your doctor.
  • Increased frequency: When auras happen more often than they used to, it could be a sign of a problem that a doctor needs to look at.
  • With new headaches: If you get a new kind of headache with your auras, especially if the pain is severe and doesn’t go away with usual treatments, seek medical help.
  • If you experience pain: Migraine auras usually come without pain. If you have pain during an aura, tell a doctor.
  • Other symptoms: If you have problems speaking, weakness, or trouble moving any part of your body, these could be serious signs that need quick attention.
  • Vision loss: If you lose your vision suddenly or it doesn’t return after the aura, a doctor must check this to rule out other eye problems.

Sometimes, what seems like a migraine aura might be something else. Other health problems can look like migraine auras, including:

  • Transient ischemic attacks (TIAs): These are like warning strokes and can cause symptoms very similar to migraine auras. A TIA needs immediate medical attention because it can be a sign that a stroke might happen soon.
  • Retinal detachment: This is when the retina, the part of the eye that senses light, comes loose. It can cause symptoms like flashing lights, which need urgent care to prevent vision loss.
  • Seizures: Some types of seizures can cause changes in vision and sensation, similar to migraine auras, and require medical evaluation.

It’s also good to get help if:

  • Auras affect your daily life: If auras make it hard to do your everyday activities, like reading or driving, a doctor can help you manage them.
  • You are unsure: If you don’t know what’s causing your symptoms or something doesn’t feel right, it’s better to get checked out.

By seeing a health care provider, you can ensure your symptoms are treated correctly. The doctor may ask you about your symptoms, do a physical exam, and sometimes order tests like a brain scan or blood tests. The correct diagnosis can help you find the best way to manage your auras and keep you healthy. It’s always better to be safe and talk to a professional about any concerns you have with migraine auras or other symptoms.

Treatment Options for Migraine Auras

Managing and treating migraine auras effectively often requires a comprehensive approach. Treatments may focus on prevention, relief during the aura phase, and managing the following migraine. Here’s a detailed look at the treatment options:

Preventive Medication:

  • Beta-blockers: These drugs are traditionally used to treat high blood pressure but can also help prevent migraine with auras.
  • Calcium channel blockers: These medications manage blood pressure and blood flow and are often prescribed to prevent migraine.
  • Antiepileptic drugs: Certain medications used for epilepsy control can also help in reducing the frequency and intensity of migraine auras.
  • Antidepressants: Some antidepressant medications can help prevent migraine, even if a person doesn’t have depression.

Medication During Aura Phase:

  • Pain relievers: Over-the-counter or prescription pain relief medications can be taken during the aura phase to try to head off the headache that may follow.
  • Triptans: These medications are often used to treat migraine pain but are most effective if taken at the first sign of migraine onset, which can be during the aura phase for some people.
  • Anti-nausea medication: For those whose auras come with nausea, medication to manage this symptom can be beneficial.

Lifestyle Modifications:

  • Regular sleep schedule: A regular sleep schedule can reduce the likelihood of an aura, as sleep disturbances are common triggers.
  • Diet management: Avoiding foods that trigger migraine, keeping hydrated, and maintaining a regular eating schedule can help.
  • Stress management: Techniques like meditation, biofeedback, and regular exercise can reduce stress-related aura triggers.

Avoiding Triggers:

  • Trigger identification: Keep a diary to identify potential triggers such as specific foods, weather changes, and stressors, which can be unique to each individual.
  • Environmental control: Take measures to control your environment by reducing exposure to bright lights, loud noises, and strong smells.
  • Hormonal therapy: For women whose migraine seem to be linked to their menstrual cycle, hormone therapy may be considered.

Alternative Treatments:

  • Supplements: Magnesium, riboflavin (vitamin B2), and Coenzyme Q10 supplements have been found to help some people prevent migraine.
  • Acupuncture: Some individuals find relief from migraine through acupuncture treatments.
  • Biofeedback and neurostimulation: These therapies involve learning to control specific body responses and stimulating nerves to prevent or treat migraine.

Emergency Treatment

In some cases, if the migraine aura is severe or accompanies a migraine that doesn’t respond to standard treatment, emergency medication might be given by a health care provider, which could include stronger drugs or IV treatments.

Ongoing Research

There is ongoing research into new treatments for migraine and its auras, including monoclonal antibodies that target specific peptides or neurotransmitters involved in migraine pathways.

It’s essential for anyone experiencing migraine auras to consult with a health care provider to create a personalized treatment plan. Because migraine and auras vary significantly among individuals, what works for one person may not work for another. A health care provider can offer guidance based on the latest research and clinical guidelines.

By working with a health care provider, patients can explore the most current and effective treatment options available, which may change over time as new treatments are developed and the patient’s condition evolves. Regular check-ins with a health care provider allow for adjustments to treatment plans as needed, aiming for the best possible control over migraine auras and their associated symptoms.

Getty image by Ivan Jekic

Originally published: November 8, 2023
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