Lifetime prevalence of aura is 4% in males and 7% in females, while migraines without aura affect 6% of men and 16% of women. People aged 50 and above are less likely to experience aura.
One in five people experiencing migraines have some uncommon symptoms known as aura, manifesting before the headache and lasting for about 20 minutes. Unlike regular headaches that go away more quickly, migraines can last up to 72 hours and when they’re accompanied by aura, they come with additional symptoms.
Some of these manifestations are less severe while others are very disturbing and perceived as threatening by most sufferers. How does aura manifest more specifically? First symptoms are usually changes in vision such as flashes of light, blind spots, shimmering stars and zigzag patterns floating across the field of vision.
In addition, sufferers can experience numbness in one hand or in the face area, problems speaking, ringing in the ears, dizziness and, rarely, muscle weakness, but these manifestations are only temporary. All these symptoms are followed by the typical signs of migraine – intense headache, increased sensitivity to sounds and light, and nausea. In some sufferers, vomiting, low blood pressure, irritability and sensitivity to motion also occur.
However, given that the signs of aura can signal the presence of a more serious condition, such as retinal tear or stroke, one should immediately see a doctor if the previously mentioned symptoms occur.
People who are obese and those with a family history of aura or migraine are more likely to experience aura. Fatigue, stress, bright lights and changes in sleep patterns are also believed to contribute to aura’s occurrence. Women are more prone to experience these unpleasant manifestations, and teens and young adults are more likely than adults to have migraines with aura.
CAN AURA BE PREVENTED?
Preventive measures and treatment for aura are similar to those recommended for migraine headaches, so the unpleasant manifestations mentioned above can be kept away.
It is important to be aware of and avoid the potential triggers of aura such as lack of sleep, skipping meals, stress, certain foods known to be triggers, excessive caffeine intake, alcoholic beverages and not drinking enough water.
Once an aura or migraine has begun, staying in a quiet and dark room, placing cold compresses on the forehead or other painful areas, taking over-the-counter pain killers or NSAIDS (non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs), such as ibuprofen or naproxen sodium, as well as resting can help to relieve symptoms. More specific migraine medications, called triptans, can be prescribed by a physician to relieve migraine pain. In patients with recurrent aura, medications like antidepressants, beta-blockers and anticonvulsants may also be prescribed.
Certain foods are thought to increase the risk of experiencing aura, so make sure to eat them moderately or avoid them if you suffer from recurrent migraines:
• Citrus fruits
• Cold foods
• Alcoholic beverages
Elza Vasconcellos, M.D.
UCNS Certified in Headache Medicine