If you’ve ever experienced a migraine attack, you know it’s no ordinary headache. Oh, and the kind with sensory disturbances like kaleidoscope vision, ear ringing, and hand tingling? They’re called migraine with aura.
If you’re wondering why you’re experiencing a sudden increase in migraine with aura — and how to find sweet, sweet relief — you’ve come to the right place.
Anywhere from a quarter to a third of folks who experience migraine attacks also experience auras. The aura is usually the first sign of an impending attack. Experts say an aura can last anywhere from 5 to 60 minutes.
Science divides migraine aura symptoms into four types. You might experience any or all types during a migraine attack with aura.
When most folks talk about a migraine aura, they’re referring to these visual symptoms.
- sudden blind spots
- flashbulb-like pops in vision
- jagged lines of bright light
- ringing in ears
- hearing noises or music that aren’t there
This typically involves sudden tingling or prickly feeling in the hands, face, or body.
Some people experience an aura that causes sudden weakness on just one side of the body or face. This super rare aura indicates a hemiplegic migraine.
Some migraine attacks are preceded by slurred or garbled speech, or trouble finding and articulating words.
The tricky part is that researchers are still unclear on why some folks experience auras before their migraine attacks. Most theorize that an aura is precipitated by vascular changes or cortical spreading depression — basically, a wave of disrupted brain activity — that occurs in some neurological disorders.
Experts *do* know that visual auras stem from the brain’s occipital lobe. The cortical spreading depression might then travel to other parts of the brain, triggering intense head pain.
More research is needed to fully understand the link between auras and cortical spreading depression. While we don’t know exactly why someone might experience a sudden increase in migraine with aura, we do know these are common links:
- external triggers
- some medical conditions
It could be hormonal
If you’re a woman who gets migraine attacks with aura, hormonal shifts could be part of the problem. Research from 2012 revealed that women tend to have more or more severe migraine episodes during times of hormonal change:
It could be environmental triggers
These same migraine-inducing factors could invite an increase in auras:
- periods of high stress or anxiety
- too much caffeine
- changes in your sleep schedule
- sudden exposure to bright lights, loud noises, or intense smells
- weather or seasonal changes like storm fronts or allergies
It could be a medical condition
Remember how cortical spreading depression might trigger auras? Well, they’re also associated with other neurological conditions.
One of these conditions or experiences could explain a sudden increase in migraine with aura.
- brain trauma
- brain tumors
- increase in migraine attacks in general
A head-splitting migraine is more than enough, thank you very much. Add in an aura and you’re left wondering what you ever did to deserve this (hint: nothing — no one deserves these).
There’s still so much we don’t know about how migraine with aura happens, but researchers do offer a few treatment techniques for migraine attacks in general.
Docs often recommend ongoing medications for folks who experience frequent or severe migraine episodes — with or without auras. There are a few different types of preventative medications. Note that they’re prescribed off-label (for uses other than their OG purpose).
- Beta-blockers. More than 50 clinical trials have confirmed propranolol’s effectiveness against migraine. Metoprolol and timolol are also commonly prescribed.
- Antidepressants. Yep, sometimes antidepressants help with migraine attacks. Meds include amitriptyline and venlafaxine.
- Anticonvulsants. Designed to prevent seizures, obvi. But valproate and topiramate come to the rescue for some folks with migraine with aura.
- Calcium channel blockers. They’re meant to lower your blood pressure, but they might also prevent migraine with aura. Verapamil and flunarizine have been prescribed for people who have chronic migraine, but recent expert commentary indicates that they might not be as effective as previously thought.
Pain relief meds
Already in the middle of an aura-meets-headache meet-cute? Here are some common migraine relief methods.
- Over-the-counter pain relievers. If the pain is *just* beginning, you might be able to stop it with non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) like aspirin, ibuprofen, or naproxen.
- Triptans. Your doctor can prescribe these meds when necessary. Avoid ‘em if you’ve had a stroke, basilar migraine, or severe vascular health conditions.
- ER migraine cocktail. These professionally mixed medication combos are part of an emergency room doctor’s arsenal against migraine episodes.
Not really. Remember, researchers are still working to pinpoint the exact cause of migraine with aura. That makes it impossible to recommend a sure-fire prevention method.
But there *are* worthwhile migraine remedies for general prevention.
- Keep a schedule. That means regular mealtimes, good sleep habits, and a work routine designed to help you avoid stress.
- Learn your triggers. Some folks find it helpful to keep a headache diary of when and where migraine attacks occur, which symptoms you experience, and what foods or meds you ingested just before the attack.
- Build a “migraine kit.” Pack a small bag of essential items for migraine relief. Keep it in your car, office, or bedroom.
- Rethink your diet. Research tells us that foods like chocolate, citrus fruit, wheat, aged cheese, and fermented noms might trigger migraine attacks.
- A migraine with aura = a debilitating headache + sensory disturbances.
- Experts still don’t understand the exact evolution of migraine with aura, but some medications can help manage your symptoms or decrease the frequency of episodes.
- Hormone shifts, external triggers, and new neurological diagnoses might cause a sudden increase in migraine with aura.
- Always tell your doctor if you suddenly start experiencing new types of migraine or an unexplained increase in attacks with aura.