Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Migraine Aura

The first time I had a migraine, a blank spot appeared in my field of vision, just off centre. Blinking didn't remove it. Closing one eye or the other made no difference. I was trying to read and, no matter where I looked, there was a gaping hole. And it grew.

It dawned on me that my sister, Pat, had mentioned having a migraine while trying to write an exam: she couldn't read because of a blind spot, and her head was pounding.

With subsequent migraines I've also experienced aphasia, where there is a curious and frustrating disconnect between my brain and my mouth. (You may recall Serene Branson's on-air episode that had people worried that she was drunk or having a stroke.) I almost sound drunk, speaking slowly and purposefully with mixed-up words, while feeling like my lips have been pumped with Novocaine. Even more than the blind spot, the inability to communicate makes me panicky.

I've also experienced numbness and tingling running up my arm.

And of course, there's the pain. I am blessed in that, although I do get migraines, they rarely send me to a darkened room with a cloth over my brow. More often, I get the aura, without the crippling pain. (I have one friend who is completely incapacitated when a migraine strikes her. A padded cave with no light or sound would be her refuge at those times.)

All of these are alarming symptoms for anyone who has a familial history of stroke, as I do.

If I suffered the kind of pain my friend does, I doubt that I would have come to appreciate - enjoy, even - the visual disturbance that precedes my migraines. These are called auras, and are often experienced before migraines as well as before seizures.

For me, they include the "blind spot," but they also include a kind of kaleidoscopic play of lights at the edge of the spot.
This is one artist's depiction of an aura
The other night as I was reading in bed, I noticed the portentous blind spot. Knowing it was hopeless to continue reading, I closed my eyes and observed. As I watched the colours dancing, I wondered how I might show you what it's like.

Using my recently acquired Photoshop skills, I played with some images. This is what I came up with. You will likely have to click on the picture to reactivate the gif.

It still doesn't do it justice, because the curving arcs look blotchy and pasted-on, which is not how they appear when I experience them. To me, they actually look like jagged tears in a canvas with an ever-changing rainbow lit up behind. The colours dance.

The other thing that is different is that, with an aura, you really can't look right at it - or I can't anyway. It stays off to the periphery of my field of vision, no matter where I look.

I had never timed one of these aura progressions before the other night. I always thought they lasted at least half an hour, but this one was done in a mere five minutes, much to my surprise.

Have you ever experienced an aura? What was yours like?


  1. I don't get an aura, but I get the sound like I'm having a stroke thing. I just got - yesterday - in the mail a new sleep mask.

    I'd had a four day migraine, and on the first good day wondered why there wasn't something better than a drug store sleep mask for migraine sufferers. Naturally, since millions suffer from migraines there are many things out there. The ones I finally ordered work so that there is NOTHING touching your eyes as it blocks light. Much better. Not that I'm wanting a migraine to test it out, but just for regular sleep last night it worked well.

  2. You, my dear, have the WORST migraines of anyone I know. those sound like great sleep masks.

  3. Hi there! Thanks for commenting and following my blog!

    Nice post. I used to get migraines years ago, but somehow they've completely left now. I had the same blindspot which was stressful and uncomfortable when it happened. So bizarre.

    Off to go read more of your blog!


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