Snap! You know when a headache is coming because it feels very strange. You feel dizzy as you feel the sudden sting in your head that feels like you’ve been hit by something. Not only that, you also feel dizzy, and you can sometimes feel a sudden ring in your ear and other discomforting symptoms. These increasing uncomfortable symptoms are called a migraine aura. The next thing you know, it’s a very painful migraine headache.
Understanding a Migraine Aura
A migraine is really nothing new. It is a condition that most of us have probably encountered. A migraine is basically caused by the changes in the nervous system. The cause of these changes are not yet clearly determined by scientists. However, it is possible that several brain chemicals play a role in the cause of this condition.
Theory has it that the excitation of the trigeminal nerve in the brain caused by a wave of nerve cell activity causes the release of a variety of neurotransmitters. These neurotransmitters then cause the blood vessels to change their size so that they eventually release more neurotransmitters which cause the person to feel the pang of pain due to the inflammatory process happening in the brain.
Now, how do we distinguish a headache from migraine? Migraine attack usually includes nausea, throbbing headache, vomiting, lethargy, and sensitivity to light and sound as its symptoms. There are in fact four phases of migraine that people often experience. These phases are prodrome, aura, attack and postdrome which are often distinguished by the symptoms manifested in the person.
Some people who have a migraine often experience the warning signs in the second phase. This second phase of migraine is what we call a migraine aura. It is often associated with sensory, motor, verbal and most commonly visual disturbances. This stage usually happens before a headache is felt.
A migraine aura includes a wide spectrum of neurological symptoms, which usually targets the senses. In some people, the neurological changes happening in the cortex of the brain cause changes in sight, hearing, and speech.
What does it feel like?
It is like an electrical wave that moves across the visual cortex of the brain causing disturbances in sight, hearing, and other senses. People who experience a migraine aura often see dark spots or colored spots, sparkles and zigzag lines which aren’t really there. Numbness, weakness, dizziness or vertigo (a spinning sensation) can also be felt. Speech and hearing can also be disturbed and memory changes, anxiety, and confusion can also be experienced.
In most adults, the aura is manifested before the occurrence of a headache. However, in children, aura can be experienced the same time as a headache. It is also possible with this condition to feel only the symptoms, so it is possible to experience a migraine aura without a headache.
It is often hard to predict whether a migraine attack is going to occur. Most of the time, people regard the attack as a mere headache and that the discomfort the sufferers feel is due to the headache. However, if it should be categorized, the occurrence of migraine can be predicted through the pattern of the attack as described in the different phases of migraine. The symptoms of these phases differentiate the condition from a headache.
Migraine aura is accounted as a very common type of migraine. The occurrence of migraine is often predicted with the symptoms associated with this second phase. Aside from it being one of the types of migraine, there are also some types that are identified which are characterized by how it affects the sufferer.
It often appears in different ways. Some people may experience dizziness or nausea, clouding or disrupted vision, sensitivity to light, difficulty in hearing or speech and ringing of the ear. Apart from these symptoms that affect the senses, this condition (for the worst case) can also be associated with lethargy (lack of energy), memory loss, mental confusion, vertigo and even hallucinations. These symptoms are common but can be frightening to some sufferers of this condition.
As the migraine aura affects the cortex of the brain, a person usually loses normal visual function. This can be regarded as a migraine visual aura. During a visual aura, a person can experience disrupted vision such as seeing zigzag patterns, sparkles and may even experience partial loss of vision or scotoma.
Another type of migraine aura is the sensory aura which can usually happen at the same time as visual aura or after. This aura causes the sufferer difficulty in controlling their motor ability due to numbness of limbs up to the arms which can occur over 10 to 20 minutes of the attack.
The sensation can also travel to one side of the face and tongue which causes disrupted speech and is then referred to as the dysphasic aura.
A migraine aura in general is not really a life-threatening condition and is most often short-lived. Fortunately, however, it does not omit the fact that it is a disturbing condition. Now, is there a way to prevent migraine from occurring? Certainly yes!
Knowing the symptoms of migraine and its phases can definitely help you take some measures to prevent the headache from occurring or avoid prolonged pain caused by the condition. After the early manifestations or occurrences of migraine, you should be able to note the factors that seem to trigger your migraine. While identifying these triggering factors, it is advisable to have a migraine diary to help you track down the causes of your migraine.
Here’s what you can record in your migraine diary:
- Date of the migraine attack
- Time/duration of the attack (when it began, how long it lasted)
- Warning signs and symptoms
- Description of the pain felt if any
- Medication you took
The occurrence of symptoms can be triggered by the food you consume. Therefore, it is important to watch over your diet. Here are some foods that can trigger a migraine aura:
- Foods high in MSG
- Frozen foods
- Dairy products
- Cured meat
- Fruits (avocado, banana, citrus fruit), and etc.
Everybody who suffers this condition has different migraine triggering factors that cause migraine. Proper rest and sleep are advised to minimize the occurrence of migraine. The smart thing to do to prevent this condition is to visit your doctor to discuss your experience and have proper treatment designed for your condition.
A migraine, in general, is not life-threatening. However, this condition can be hereditary.
It is always best to visit the doctor at the early manifestations or occurrences of migraine for you to be able to note the factors that seem to trigger your migraine.
Since migraine aura is caused by changes in the activity in cortex of the brain, in which other bodily functions are triggered, you should be able to trace these triggering factors from your diet, habits and even other conditions. For instance, menstrual cycles.
As always, diagnosis of the condition can definitely help you manage the condition.
Questions to Ask
When going to the doctor, here are some of the questions that you may need to ask about your condition, which could include a migraine aura:
- What are the causes of
- Is my condition temporary or chronic?
- Do I need to undergo some tests?
- What treatments are available for my condition?
- How can I prevent the symptoms from happening again?
- Are there any dietary restrictions that I need to follow?
- What medications do I have to take?
- I have (state other health conditions), is it safe for me to undergo the suggested treatment?
Visiting a Doctor
When you go to the doctor, it is helpful for the assessment that you have a headache or migraine diary with you so the doctor has a detailed and recorded condition of your migraine experience.
If the symptoms you experienced matches the symptoms of migraine aura followed by signs of migraine, it is no doubt that you have indeed migraine with aura. But if you experience the aura that isn’t followed by a headache or visual disturbances only one eye, your doctor may recommend tests that will diagnose and treat other more serious conditions such as retinal tear or a transient ischemic attack. Certain tests like eye examination, CT scan(2), and MRI scan can also be advised to know what could be causing the symptoms.
There is actually no specific treatment for the symptoms of migraine aura. However, there are for migraine pain. Medications are usually prescribed to minimize or relieve pain and they are best taken at the first sign of a possible migraine attack.
- Pain relievers- over-the-counter pain relievers such as ibuprofen and aspirin. By far, aspirin is the most effective medication in the prevention of migraine aura. But as much possible, do not be too dependent on these pain relievers as it may cause medication-overuse headaches when taken for too long.
- Triptans- these medications block the pathways of pain in the brain. However, this treatment may not be safe for everyone especially to those with people at risk of stroke and heart attack.
- Anti-nausea drugs- can help relieve migraine accompanied by nausea and vomiting
- Botox injection- this can prevent occurrence of migraine in adults
- Antidepressants- some of its side effects include sleepiness and weight gain, but it can help relieve migraines and lets the patient rest
- Acupuncture- this alternative medical treatment has been proven to have bettered a lot of health conditions by regulating the blood cycle in the body
There is no specific treatment for a migraine aura, however, there are ways to treat the pain it causes the sufferer. However, with preventive medications, you can minimize the occurrence of migraine and may help the treatments work effectively.
Treatments for migraines may vary from every individual experiencing a migraine. This is why diagnosis at an early stage is needed to address the condition with the right treatment. Fortunately, migraine (with or without aura) is not a life-threatening condition and is often short-lived.
If you belong to a family with a known history of migraine cases, you can also expect that there is a chance that you will have it sometime in your life since this condition is hereditary. Having this knowledge, it is better for you to address this with consultation from your doctor once you have detected the early warning signs. This is so that it can be addressed with the right medication.
The condition can both be diagnosed as migraine with or without aura which are both treated almost the same way.
Generally here are some of the medical advice for rehabilitation given to patients for migraine aura, or just a migraine:
- Be wary of the symptoms
- Stay away from foods that most likely will trigger the condition
- Eat right
- Have a headache/migraine diary to record your episodes of migraine (this will help in the diagnosis)
- Have enough sleep and rest; have a sleep schedule and stick with it
- Avoid smoking and drinking
- Proper stress management
- Do yoga stretches for better blood flow
- Practice meditation
- Improve physical fitness through regular exercise
- Take the prescribed medication but do not take it for too long to avoid medication overuse
Men and women can both experience a migraine. However, it is more frequent in women due to some known migraine aura triggers that can only be experienced by women, e.g menstrual cycles and pregnancy.
It is important to have awareness of the triggering factors of what causes migraines and their symptoms. If you aren’t sure of what causes the symptoms, it is better to have yourself checked for a clearer diagnosis.
Still think that a migraine is just a mere headache? Well, think again. Like a headache, anyone can have it but some people have it worse. Migraine knows no gender. It can happen any time of the day when triggered. There is no cure or no specific treatment. However, by knowing the migraine triggers that activate the symptoms, one can prevent it from occurring or can lessen the pain it is associated with.
It is advisable that you visit your doctor at the early signs of a migraine or any continuous headache to discuss your experience and also for them to assess what you can do for headache prevention. At the checkup, a doctor can also assess what the factors are that cause migraine aura triggers.
With proper sleep and rest, controlled diet (staying away from migraine food triggers that may start the condition), proper migraine medication and exercise, you can definitely surpass your condition.
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