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What causes migraine auras?

January 31, 2024
4 minutes
Your Health
Chronic Conditions

If you’re someone who has migraines, you know that a migraine is more than “just a headache.” There are a wide range of neurological symptoms associated with this condition, and auras are one of them. About one in three people who have migraines also have auras with them.

What are migraine auras?

A migraine aura is a visual and sensory disturbance that occurs with a migraine. Many of the disturbances are visual, such as flashes of light or the development of blind spots. However, these symptoms can also be neurological, such as tingling in the hands or face. Typically, auras occur before the headache, within the hour before the discomfort starts, but they can also happen without head pain. Auras are a symptom of migraine, even if there isn’t a headache.

For many people who experience a migraine aura for the first time, the symptoms are frightening. Thankfully, they don’t cause any damage and aren’t harmful in the long term. Shedding light on this common symptom of migraines and how to best manage them is helpful in assisting people in managing their migraine condition.

Symptoms of migraines with auras

Migraine auras are highly personal to the individual, and as such, there are many different migraine aura types. According to Mayo Clinic, some of the visual disturbances that you may experience include:

  • Blind spots, sometimes with an outline
  • Floating zig zag lines
  • Shimmering or seeing stars
  • Loss of vision
  • Changes in vision
  • Light flashes

In addition to these visual disturbances, you may experience:

  • Weakness in the muscles
  • Difficulty with speech
  • Numbness or tingling in the face or hands, usually one side only

These symptoms can be startling, and they can make you feel as though something even more serious than a migraine is happening. Knowing that auras are a normal part of migraine headaches for some people can be helpful. That said, it’s always a good idea to check with your doctor if you have concerning neurological symptoms just to ensure it’s not something more serious. Cleveland Clinic also recommends an eye exam to ensure that the aura symptoms aren’t due to changes in your vision.

Treatment for migraine auras

Migraine auras are a part of the migraine for some people, so the treatment is the same as the treatment for migraines. Pain relievers and triptans are the most common lines of defense against migraine, but doctors are researching additional medications. With any medication, always follow your doctor’s guidelines and take it as prescribed.

What causes migraine auras?

Doctors are still researching what causes a migraine aura, but the current research indicates it may be due to electrical or chemical waves that move across the brain during a migraine. Your symptoms are connected to the area of the brain that has this electrical or chemical wave. This wave doesn’t harm the brain or the nerves, but it does trigger the aura.

Migraine aura triggers

Like migraines, auras can have many triggers. Each person has their own set of triggers, and a key to managing migraines is learning what yours are. Some common triggers include:

  • Hormonal changes, such as during menstruation
  • Not getting the right amount of sleep
  • Reactions to certain foods
  • Reactions to medications
  • Bright lights
  • Overall stress

Once you identify your triggers, you may be able to reduce the number of migraine aura events you experience through lifestyle changes.

Lifestyle changes to reduce migraine auras

While medications for migraine can help with migraine auras, lifestyle changes to help avoid triggers can also be beneficial. These lifestyle changes might help:


Some research has shown that CoQ10, magnesium, and riboflavin can reduce migraine frequencies. Always check with your doctor before starting new supplements, especially if you are on medications that could interact, but these might provide some help.

Stress reduction

Finding healthy ways to manage stress, such as meditation, deep breathing and other relaxation techniques, increased sleep and even counseling, may help you with your migraine. Stress increases the risk of migraines, so reducing stress may reduce the number you have. While you can’t avoid all stress in life, managing it where you can may reduce your migraine and aura frequency.

Trigger avoidance

While it’s not always possible to avoid migraine aura triggers, sometimes you can. For instance, if you’ve determined a certain food triggers a migraine, then try to avoid that food. Environmental triggers, like strong perfumes or bright lights, may not be avoidable.

In order to avoid triggers, you must first identify them. Some people find keeping a migraine journal to be helpful. This journal helps them track their migraines and what they’re doing when one hits. Over time, it can give a snapshot of what might be triggering migraines, so the person can try to avoid those triggers. Of course, sometimes migraines happen with no trigger, but if you can pinpoint a trigger, then you can take steps to avoid it.

Setting a routine

Having a routine for when you sleep and eat is a good idea when dealing with migraines. Getting too much or too little sleep can increase your risk, and drops in blood sugar may spark a migraine as well. Eating and sleeping at the same time every day could help.

Drinking water

Drinking more water rarely hurts anyone, and this is true for people with migraines. Mild dehydration may be a trigger for some people. You might be able to help your symptoms by striving to get the right amount of water for your body and activity level.

Track your health and triggers

If you’re focused on migraine prevention through lifestyle changes, then tracking your health may help. You can use tracking devices and programs to record food intake, water intake and exercise, and then use that along with your migraine journal to track symptoms and triggers. While you’re tracking these things, connect with Evidation to reward yourself for the healthy lifestyle changes you’re making. Download the app today!

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