Studying the Characteristics of Migraine Aura

Nancy Harris Bonk Health Guide
  • Migraine with aura is experienced in about 20-30% of people who have Migraine disease. People who have cluster headache rarely have visual aura.  At the 53rd American Headache Society's annual scientific meeting in June, Friedman et al. set out to explain the demographics and traits of Migraine with aura in a poster presentation. The two-center evaluation took place at the Clinica do Cerebro in Florianopolis, Brazil, and in Rochester, New York, at the Ophthalmology Department at the University of Rochester.


    Migraine with aura has been called by various names in the past. Some include; classic, complicated, ophthalmic, optical, and ocular Migraine. Migraine aura can consist of many different visual and/or sensory and/or speech symptoms. Visual symptoms that may arrive before the headache phase of a Migraine and can involve zigzag lines, sparkling figures, wavy lines, visual changes in shapes and sizes, scotoma (area of vision decreases or loss)  and partial loss of vision, but all are fully reversible. Tingling and/or numbness of hands and face may be possible, but are again, are fully reversible. To continue reading more about the symptoms of Migraine with aura see: Migraine with aura - The Basics.

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    The poster detailed how 126 patients envisioned their aura. There were 103 women and 23 men in the evaluation who were diagnosed as having Migraine with aura. The representative age when participants had their first Migraine attack was 17.4 years (give or take 9.8 years) and the average age of the first visual aura began around 20.7 years (give or take 11.3 years). For over 60% of participants, visual aura started inside the first year of Migraine attacks, while 40% said they had visual auras with all their Migraines. Furthermore:

    • 83.3% of participants had typical aura with Migraine and 6% had no headache, but did have aura.
    • 66.7% of participants had only visual auras, while speech and sensory issues were the most typical non-visual aura symptom.
    • 68% of participants reported aura solely before the onset of the headache phase.
    • 65.1% said their aura lasted anywhere from 5-30 minutes, and 50% had aura in their peripheral vision.
    • 54% experienced bilateral (both eyes) auras; more that 55% had moving images; and over 65% had shimmering aura.
    • 41% experienced colorful auras while only 20% had black and white auras.

    The most frequent type of visual aura seemed to be blurry vision which was experienced by 53% of the study participants; almost 47% saw small bright dots and 40% said they had typical zigzag lines. While most of the study patients had just one type of aura (74%); 22% said the onset of aura was swift, and in 53% said the aura grew intense in less than five minutes. More than 24% of patients visual aura spiked in more than six minutes. The patients who suffered from hemicranial (one side of head) aura were almost 50%, and said there was no relationship between what side of the head the pain was located on and their aura.


    The poster concluded that "Migraine visual auras are heterogeneous and pleomorphic." The basic meaning here is, Migraine auras are of the same ilk; but are experienced differently by various people. Regardless of the fact that the typical aura has been reported being black and white, 41% saw colorful auras. Blurry vision was the most commonly seen visual aura, but this is not strictly seen as part of aura and probably not cortical in origination.


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    Migraine with aura is as varied as the Migraineurs who experiences them. Hopefully, with more research, we will one day be able to have a clearer picture how to treat the visual aura of Migraine.




    Friedman, D.; Queiroz, L.; Rapoport, A.; Purdy, R. "Characteristics of Migraine Visual Aura." American Headache Society. 53rd Annual Meeting. Poster Presentation. June 2011. 


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    © HealthCentral Network, 2011.
    Last updated October 12, 2011.

Published On: October 12, 2011