Aura (symptom)

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Editor-In-Chief: C. Michael Gibson, M.S., M.D. [1]


Aura is the perceptual disturbance experienced by some migraine sufferers before a migraine headache, and the telltale sensation experienced by some people with epilepsy before a seizure. It often manifests as the perception of a strange light or an unpleasant smell.

An aura does not necessitate the onset of either a migraine or a seizure and not everyone who suffers from migraines or seizures will experience auras. Though auras tend to be an unpleasant and irritating sensation, they can be beneficial. Most injuries from seizures occur when there is no warning. Auras allow epileptics time to prevent injury to themselves. The time between the appearance of the aura and the onset of a migraine or seizure can be anything from a few seconds up to an hour. Most people who have auras have the same type of aura every time.


  • Auras can take on the following forms:
    • Auditory
    • Sensory such as olfactory (smell)
    • Visual
    • Olfactory auras can also be described as deja vu or dreamlike sensations
  • Can possibly be attributed to the area of the brain involved

Causes by Organ System

Cardiovascular No underlying causes
Chemical / poisoning No underlying causes
Dermatologic No underlying causes
Drug Side Effect No underlying causes
Ear Nose Throat No underlying causes
Endocrine Pituitary adenoma
Environmental No underlying causes
Gastroenterologic Gluten-sensitive enteropathy associated conditions
Genetic Color blindness
Hematologic No underlying causes
Iatrogenic No underlying causes
Infectious Disease No underlying causes
Musculoskeletal / Ortho No underlying causes
Neurologic Absence seizures, Complex partial seizure, Focal seizures, Partial seizure, Physiologic nonepileptic seizures, Simple partial seizure, Tonic-clonic seizure, Epilepsy, Familial hemiplegic migraine, Migraine, Temporal lobe epilepsy, Pituitary adenoma
Nutritional / Metabolic Gluten-sensitive enteropathy associated conditions
Obstetric/Gynecologic No underlying causes
Oncologic Pituitary adenoma
Opthalmologic No underlying causes
Overdose / Toxicity No underlying causes
Psychiatric No underlying causes
Pulmonary No underlying causes
Renal / Electrolyte No underlying causes
Rheum / Immune / Allergy No underlying causes
Sexual No underlying causes
Trauma No underlying causes
Urologic No underlying causes
Miscellaneous No underlying causes

Causes in Alphabetical Order

History and Symptoms

  • Aura (type)
  • Family history
  • Associated activities
  • Triggers
  • Symptoms postaura
  • Loss of consciousness
  • Prior trauma

Physical Examination

  • Complete head and neck exam
  • Complete neurologic exam

Laboratory Findings

Electrolyte and Biomarker Studies

MRI and CT

  • CT for trauma of physiologic seizure
  • MRI rules out cerebral pathology

Other Imaging Findings

Other Diagnostic Studies

  • Toxicology screen



Acute Pharmacotherapies

  • NSAIDs (nonsteriodal anti-inflammatory drugs) (migraines)
  • 5-HT1 agonists (migraines)
  • Acetaminophen (migraines)
  • IV benzodiazepines (epilepsy)
  • Antiepileptics (epilepsy)An aura sensation can include:
  • Visual Changes.
    • Bright lights.
    • Zigzag lines.
    • Distortions in the size or shape of object.
    • scintillating scotoma
      • Shimmering, pulsating patches, often curved.
      • Tunnel Vision**scotoma
      • Blind or dark spots in the field of vision.
      • Curtain like effect over one eye.
      • Slowly spreading spots.
    • Kaleidescope effects on visual field
    • Total temporary monocular (in one eye) blindness. (in retinal migraine)[1]
  • Auditory changes
    • Hearing voices or sounds that don't exist: true auditory hallucinations.
    • Modification of voices or sounds in the environment: buzzing, tremolo, amplitude modulation or other modulations.* Strange smells (olfactory hallucinations).
  • Feelings of numbness or tingling on one side of the face or body.
  • Feeling separated from one's body.
  • Feeling as if your limbs are moving independently from your body.
  • Anxiety or fear.
  • Nausea.
  • Weakness, unsteadiness.
  • Being unable to understand or comprehend spoken words during and after the aura.
  • Being unable to speak properly, despite your brain grasping what you're trying to verbalize. (Aphasia)
  • Feeling of power or sense of euphoria (this symptom has been associated with discontinuation of seizure treatments - the sufferer may enjoy the experience and think it worth the seizure or migraine that follows)The specific type of sensation associated with an aura can potentially be used in an attempt to localize the focus of a seizure. Auras share similar symptoms with strokes, but onset is more gradual with auras. [2]

Related Chapters


  1. Robert, Teri. "Living Well With Migraine Disease and Headaches." New York. HarperCollins. 2004.
  2. Better Health Channel. Stroke and Migraine. Government of Victoria, Australia. Accessed August 18, 2007.