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What Is Migraine with Aura?

September 17, 2020

Lightning-bolt lines. Shimmering stars. Flashes of light. Tingling hands. For many people with migraine, these phenomena — called aura — are one of the most distinctive symptoms of migraine.

About 30% of people with migraine experience these mysterious sensory disturbances. But what causes them? And is there a way to prevent aura, or make it go away?

What is aura?

Many people use the term “aura” in a New Age sense, to mean a colored field of energy that surrounds the body. Migraine aura is not the same thing; it’s a medical term describing a set of sensory symptoms that often precede a migraine attack.

Aura is experienced differently by different people, and is not always visual. It may take the form of:

  • Blurry or blind spots in the field of vision (scotoma)
  • A moving, growing geometric line that resembles the outline of a fort (fortification spectrum)
  • Bright stars, flashes of light, kaleidoscope or fireworks effects
  • Hallucinations
  • Temporary loss of language
  • Numbness or tingling in hands or feet
  • Weakness on one side of the body (hemiplegic migraine)

Many people with migraine aura have created artwork — whether physical or digital — to show others what they experience. The paintings of artist Priya Rama, for instance, depict fields of bright colors and patterns like raindrops coming down.

What causes aura?

As Stanford neurologist Nada Hindiyeh, MD explains, migraine aura “is thought to be initiated by a phenomenon in the brain known as cortical spreading depression — a self-propagating wave of electrical silence in which cortical neurons stop firing and go quiet.” This phenomenon sparks a series of reactions in the brain that cause aura, followed by a migraine attack. In some cases, people experience aura without a headache following (commonly called an ocular migraine).

The symptoms of aura can sometimes be caused by a stroke. So if you’re experiencing aura for the first time, or if you have unfamiliar symptoms, see your healthcare provider right away.

Can you prevent aura?

Aura is short-lived, typically lasting no more than an hour. Aura on its own is not dangerous, unless you’re driving or engaged in another activity that requires you to see clearly. If you’re behind the wheel when aura symptoms begin, pull over and make sure you’re in a safe place.

Many people with migraine want to know if aura is preventable. There’s no way to stop aura symptoms on their own, but preventive migraine treatments can reduce the incidence of attacks and abortive migraine treatments can reduce the severity of an attack.

CEFALY DUAL offers both kinds of migraine relief. It’s indicated for acute treatment of migraine with or without aura in patients 18 years of age or older, as well as the preventive treatment of episodic migraine.

For some people, the onset of aura can be a signal that it’s time to begin the ACUTE program on their CEFALY device. One is CEFALY user Samantha, who says, “When I get aura and know a migraine is coming I take my abortive migraine medications, lay down as soon as possible in a dark room, and put my CEFALY on the ACUTE treatment program. … Armed with my CEFALY, I am empowered to address a migraine quickly rather than wait for a drug (and its side effects) to take the edge off.”

Learn more about how CEFALY works to relieve migraine pain and prevent migraine attacks.   

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