Symptoms of aura
About 1 in 3 people with migraines have temporary warning symptoms, known as aura, before a migraine.
- visual problems – such as seeing flashing lights, zig-zag patterns or blind spots
- numbness or a tingling sensation like pins and needles – which usually starts in 1 hand and moves up your arm before affecting your face, lips and tongue
- feeling dizzy or off balance
- difficulty speaking
- loss of consciousness – although this is unusual
Aura symptoms typically develop over the course of about 5 minutes and last for up to an hour.
Some people may experience aura followed by only a mild headache or no headache at all.
When to get medical advice
You should see a GP if you have frequent or severe migraine symptoms that cannot be managed with occasional use of over-the-counter painkillers, such as paracetamol.
Try not to use the maximum dosage of painkillers on a regular or frequent basis as this could make it harder to treat headaches over time.
You should also make an appointment to see a GP if you have frequent migraines (on more than 5 days a month), even if they can be controlled with medicine, as you may benefit from preventative treatment.
You should call 999 for an ambulance immediately if you or someone you're with experiences:
- paralysis or weakness in 1 or both arms or 1 side of the face
- slurred or garbled speech
- a sudden agonising headache resulting in a severe pain unlike anything experienced before
- headache along with a high temperature (fever), stiff neck, mental confusion, seizures, double vision and a rash
Stages of a migraine
Migraines often develop in distinct stages, although not everyone goes through all of these:
prodromal (pre-headache) stage – changes in mood, energy levels, behaviour and appetite that can occur several hours or days before an attack
aura – usually visual problems, such as flashes of light or blind spots, which can last for 5 minutes to an hour
headache stage – usually a pulsating or throbbing pain on 1 side of the head, often accompanied by feeling sick, vomiting or extreme sensitivity to bright light and loud sounds, which can last for 4 to 72 hours
resolution stage – when the headache and other symptoms gradually fade away, although you may feel tired for a few days afterwards