Silent migraines– migraine auras without headache– are more common than previously thought. Don’t underestimate the significance of a silent migraine attack- though it may not cause excruciating head pain, migraine auras without headache nevertheless signify a serious neurological disorder that is sometimes linked with stroke, epilepsy and heart disease.
What is a migraine aura?
A migraine aura (MA) is phase two of the four phases of migraine attacks. In many scientific studies, migraines with aura are linked with increased odds for stroke, heart attack, diabetes, and hypertension. (Science Daily)
The four migraine phases
The initial prodrome phase occurs several days before a migraine strikes, and may cause irritability, mood swings, unusual food cravings, or excessive tiredness.
The next stage, migraine with aura, may occur mere minutes before a migraine attack. Symptoms like vertigo, nausea, fatigue, visual distortions, speech impairments, and partial paralysis are warning signs of an impending migraine attack.
Not all migraine patients experience this second “migraine aura phase,” just as not all MA patients progress to the third stage, migraine headache.
The migraine headache phase causes very severe, long-lasting pain on one side of the head. As mentioned, it is not uncommon for a migraine with aura to skip the headache phase and proceed directly into the fourth stage- postdrome, or recuperation.
Because silent migraines (painless migraines) don’t produce head pain, they are often characterized by the visual distortions that can occur during a migraine with aura. Eye migraine, visual migraine, acephalgic migraine, and ocular migraine are other terms used for migraine auras without headaches.
Even if you experience full migraines with aura, including headache, you may still suffer from silent migraines from time to time. Approximately 20% of migraine with aura (MA) sufferers will also experience migraines auras, without headache.
Symptoms of silent migraines
A migraine aura may last up to one hour, causing a variety of sensory, visual, and neurological impairments.
Symptoms of migraines auras without headache include:
- Visual distortions, including zigzagging flashes of light, blind spots, voids, blurring, “heat waves,” shifting eclipse-shaped images with shimmering edges, and double vision
- Hallucinatory scents similar to burnt popcorn, toxic chemicals, or smoke
- Painful tingling and numbness in the extremities (hands, feet, arms, and legs)
- Partial paralysis
- Sudden inability to communicate verbally, speech slurring
- Temporary loss of spatial awareness or time
- Loss of consciousness
- Severe weakness
- Nausea and vomiting
- Stomach cramps
(Also read Go Ask Alice: Migraine Auras in Wonderland)
Silent migraine treatment
To prevent migraine auras, doctors may prescribe calcium channel blockers (CCBs) or anticonvulsants used to treat epilepsy. Alternatively, magnesium supplements are helpful for boosting the effectiveness of CCBs such as verapamil.
Triptans are not recommended, as they do not effectively work to prevent migraine auras in time and may cause harmful side effects.
Besides magnesium, other natural ingredients which are used to improve neurological health in migraine patients include riboflavin, coenzyme Q10 and butterbur root extracts.
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