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What is an “aura” and how does it differ between migraine and seizure patients?


Photo by Michael Dziedzic on Unsplash

Auras are mysterious perceptual disturbances that sometimes precede eplileptic seizures and migraine headaches. Auras offer unique insight into the intricate workings of the brain because they provide some information about the localization and nature of seizures or migraines. In this blog post, we delve into the world of auras, exploring their manifestations, significance, and the connection between epilepsy and migraines.


Epileptic Auras

Epileptic auras are actually focal seizures. They’re called “auras” because they’re typically characterized by minor sensory disturbances that precede larger, more serious seizures in many instances. The nature of epileptic auras can vary from person to person. Some may have tunnel vision, feel hot and sweaty, smell burning, or experience other sensory distortions. Because auras are seizures, it’s normal to drop things, stumble, slur one’s speech, have a hard time understanding others, etc. Auras are very useful because they can help epilepsy sufferers know when a bigger, more serious seizure is likely to occur and they can move to safety.


Migraine Auras

In the realm of migraines, auras are predominantly visual, arising from dysfunction in the visual cortex. While a migraine aura is usually succeeded by a headache, it can also manifest independently, leaving individuals disoriented and confused. The complexity of migraine auras lies in the fact that individuals may experience different types of auras during a single episode. The challenge arises in distinguishing migraine auras from sudden panic, anxiety attacks, or panic attacks, making diagnosis a complex process. Migraine auras can also be very helpful because it can signal to a migraine sufferer that it’s time to take preventive medicine or head home to rest.


Here is a publicly posted example of a migraine aura from a Reddit user:

I always get auras. Starts with a spot in my vision going blank, like I’ll look at a friend/coworker and their face is half gone or their torso isn’t there. Then I get what looks like a zigzaggy waterfall on one side of my vision. Then one of my hands goes numb/prickly, which creeps up my arm and into my face, then I get confused/disoriented and can’t remember my words or how to read/write. It’s a tonne of fun. Sometimes it’s worse than the headache.

Migraine sufferers are more likely to have epilepsy and epilepsy sufferers are more likely to experience migraines, so there is a connection between the two conditions.


What to do if you experience an “aura”

If you experience an aura, it is important to take certain steps to ensure your safety and manage any potential symptoms. Here are some recommendations:

  1. Find a safe environment: Move to a quiet, dimly lit room where you can rest and minimize sensory stimulation.

  2. Take preventive medication: If you have been prescribed medication for migraines or seizures, follow your healthcare provider's instructions and take the medication as directed.

  3. Practice relaxation techniques: Deep breathing exercises, meditation, and progressive muscle relaxation can help alleviate anxiety and promote relaxation during an aura.

  4. Inform others: Let someone close to you know about your aura symptoms, especially if you are prone to more serious seizures or migraines. They can provide support and assistance if needed.

  5. Avoid triggers: Identify and avoid any triggers that may worsen your symptoms. Common triggers include stress, certain foods, bright lights, loud noises, and lack of sleep.

  6. Seek medical attention if necessary: If your aura is accompanied by severe symptoms, such as loss of consciousness, difficulty breathing, or prolonged confusion, seek immediate medical attention.

Remember, it is always best to consult with a healthcare professional for personalized advice and guidance regarding your specific condition and symptoms.


Conclusion

Auras can manifest in a variety of different ways, and can be different for seizure sufferers vs. migraine sufferers. An aura is a helpful event because it helps people know that they need to move to a safe location, take their medicine, or take other action to deal with impending migraine or seizure episodes. If you are experiencing auras and the accompanying migraines and/or seizures, you may need to see a neurologist.

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