Bright lights and fadings sights: The tell-tale signs of migraines with aura

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Bright lights and fadings sights: The tell-tale signs of migraines with aura

If you suspect that you’re a migraine sufferer, “seeing the light” can go both ways. On one hand, seeing lights could be a sign of a migraine attack. On the upside, though, seeing the light can mean that you’ve recognised that you indeed have migraine, and you can now learn how to deal with it. 

The American Migraine Foundation considers migraines as the third most common disease in the world, and it is more prevalent than diabetes, epilepsy and asthma combined.  

Given that migraine affects one out of seven people globally, it’s fair to ask yourself if you could possibly be a migraine sufferer.

What causes a migraine? 

It is believed that genetics and environmental factors play a role in migraine attacks.

To know if you have a migraine, it’s first advisable to know what triggers it. Here are a number of migraine triggers. Check if you are exposed to any of the elements or lifestyle habits below:

  • Alcohol and Caffeine – Consuming alcohol, especially wine, and caffeine are known to bring migraine attacks. Try limiting your alcohol and coffee intake to see if there’s a difference.
  • Stress – Whether it is stress at work or home, this can cause migraines.
  • Hormonal changes – This is specific for women. Estrogen fluctuation before or during menstrual periods seem to trigger headaches. This includes pregnancy and menopause as well. 
  • Hormonal medication – Certain hormonal medications such as oral contraceptives and hormone replacement therapy can worsen migraines.
  • Sleep changes – Whether you are missing sleep, getting too much sleep or are simply experiencing jet lag, changes in your sleeping habits or unbalanced sleep patterns can trigger migraines.
  • Sensory stimuli – Exposure to bright lights and sunlight glare or accidentally looking directly into them, exposure to loud noise and sounds, exposure to strong and overpowering smells (such as strong perfume, nail polish, paint thinner, etc) can all trigger migraines.
  • Certain medications – Oral contraceptives and vasodilators like nitroglycerin are known to make migraines worse.
  • Certain foods – Salty and processed foods may trigger migraines. So can eating patterns as well, like fasting or skipping meals.

It’s also been found that women are three times more likely to have migraines than men. Also, if you have a family history of migraines, you will likely have a high chance of having them, too.

Keep track of the above factors and log them in a diary, if possible, so that you can see patterns of your migraine attacks and see what possibly triggers them.

Warning signs of a migraine attack

Migraine with aura

If it’s any consolation at all, some people may receive a warning or a heads-up (a courtesy call, if you will) before migraine pain begins. These are known as “aura”. People who have migraines may fall into either of these two categories: having a migraine with aura, or a migraine without aura. Sometimes, they can fall into both categories. The aura stage is experienced by 25-30 percent of migraine sufferers. 

Prodrome phase 

A larger group of migraine sufferers (40-60 percent) experience what is called a “prodrome phase” before a migraine attack. These are subtle changes in their health or body which may occur one or two days prior to the onset of migraine pain. These changes may be one of the following: constipation, diarrhea, drowsiness, irritability, food cravings, hyperactivity and depression.

Do you fall under migraine with aura?

Auras are usually visual disturbances, but they can also be sensory, motor or verbal. Visual auras are the most common, though. Auras are a series of sensory disturbances that take place just before a migraine attack. 

A migraine aura usually appears before the migraine attack (pain) itself. Sometimes, it can also occur during the attack. 

The auras can be classified into these range of symptoms:

Vision disturbances

  • Bright lights
  • Bright dots
  • Sparks
  • Zig-zagging lights
  • (Temporary) Loss of vision 

These visual auras are like electrical or chemical waves that move across the visual cortex of the brain. This is the part of our brain that processes visual signals. As the wave spreads, visual hallucinations may appear. It may start as a small hole of light, or bright geometrical lines that can be seen in one’s visual field. There are times that the visual aura may expand into a curved or C-shaped figure with zigzag lines. It may appear to grow as it moves.

Visual auras are not the same for all people. Some might experience bright spots or flashes. Sometimes, they are followed or accompanied by a partial loss of vision known as “scotoma”. Visual auras normally last between 10 to 30 minutes.

Sensory changes

  • Feeling numbness in the face, body and hands
  • Tingling of one side of the body

These sensory auras can occur at the same time as visual auras, or on their own right after. These usually begin as a tingling in one limb, or numbness that spreads over 10-20 minutes. 

Speech or language problems

  • Sudden inability to speak clearly
  • Inability to produce and pronounce the right words
  • Slurring of words
  • Mumbling

Known as “dysphasic aura”, these types of aura can cause transient speech or language problems. In rare cases, the limbs and one side of the face or the body can become weak (hemiplegic migraine).

What happens after an aura?

After you experience an aura, a migraine attack most usually occurs. It’s also possible that the migraine attack itself can occur while you are experiencing the auras. On occasion, auras can also occur on their own without the associated pains of migraines. 

The migraine attack can go on for as short as a few hours to or as long as several days. 

After the migraine attack, one normally undergoes a postdrome phase, where exhaustion or a feeling of being washed and drained out occurs. 

When should you seek professional consultation for your aura?

Auras normally do not last longer than an hour, but if they occur for longer than that, and most especially if it is accompanied by weakness of one side of the body or a decrease in the level of alertness and consciousness, it is suggested that you seek medical attention immediately. It’s also worth noting that a migraine with aura increases the risk of a stroke. See your physician immediately as stroke risk factors and avoiding certain medications is important.

Living with migraines — and migraines with aura at that — can be painful and debilitating. Being aware of your symptoms, triggers and whether you experience auras or not can help in managing a life with migraine better. 

Do you experience any of these auras? Are you a long-time migraine-with-aura sufferer? We’d love to hear about your experiences and how you manage to live with migraines with aura. Do get in touch with us, and let’s talk about all things migraine.

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