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There it is again -- that excruciating pain in your head from a migraine. The pain alone is enough to stop you from carrying on your daily activities. But even before the headache begins, you notice strange symptoms such as dizziness, ringing in your ears, seeing zigzag lines, and being sensitive to light.

No doubt about it -- you have a painful, debilitating headache. But what makes this headache a migraine? And what does it mean to have a migraine with aura? How is this different from other headaches or other migraines? Most important, what can you do to make the migraine with aura go away?

What Is a Migraine With Aura, and What Causes It?

"Migraine with aura" is a relatively new name for the less common type of migraine headache. Aura refers to feelings and symptoms you notice shortly before the headache begins. These early symptoms are also called a prodrome.

Scientists aren't sure what causes migraines with aura. It's thought that at least two brain chemicals -- serotonin and dopamine -- play a role. According to the theory, something goes awry in the way these chemicals regulate brain function. This may cause the brain and the body's immune system to overreact. When this happens, a flood of immune response cells flows through the blood vessels to the brain. The brain's blood vessels open wider to accommodate these cells. Even more chemicals are released to help control the vessels' muscles. The vessels open and constrict. A severe, often throbbing headache results.

Factors suspected of causing migraines with aura include genetics and being overweight. Substances, behaviors, and environment may trigger migraines, as well. It is known that migraines often run in families.They frequently begin in childhood and worsen through adolescence. Although more boys than girls have migraines, more adult women than adult men have migraines. Over time, the number of migraines lessen, and they become rare after age 50.

Whatever the cause, the good news is that -- although painful -- migraines with aura are not life threatening.

What Are the Symptoms of a Migraine With Aura?

Migraines with aura account for less than 20% of all migraines. But that's little comfort when you are the one who falls victim to this painful headache.

Headache is considered the symptom common to all types of migraines -- although a few children experience an aura without a headache. Migraine pain usually occurs in the front of the head on one or both sides of the temples. It may throb or be steady. The headache may last from four to 72 hours.

Other symptoms of migraine may include any of these:

  • nausea
  • vomiting
  • yawning
  • irritability
  • low blood pressure
  • feeling "hyper"
  • sensitivity to light, sounds, or motion
  • dark circles under the eyes

A migraine with aura comes with additional symptoms, which often begin about 30 minutes or less before the headache. These early symptoms are called a prodrome.The prodrome or aura may last for five to 20 minutes, or it may continue even after the headache subsides. Symptoms of aura include:

  • blind spots or scotomas
  • blindness in half of your visual field in one or both eyes (hemianopsia)
  • seeing zigzag patterns (fortification)
  • seeing flashing lights (scintilla)
  • feeling prickling skin (paresthesia)
  • weakness
  • seeing things that aren't really there (hallucinations)