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Sarah and Migraines with Aura

Learn more about some of the biggest challenges regarding migraines and how Sarah coped with the unpredictability of migraine attacks.

By Mariem Sellami / Edited by Aiden Chantemsin

Updated September 29, 2023

What are migraines with aura?

A migraine with aura, or classic migraine, is a persistent headache that occurs after or concurrently with sensory disturbances known as aura. It is estimated that approximately 25% of migraine sufferers experience aura: 90% to 99% of people who develop aura experience visual aura such as blind spots, zigzag lines, shimmering spots or stars, flashes of lights, or even temporary blindness, while 36% of people develop sensory aura-like tingling or numbness in the face or extremities. Other temporary disturbances extend to transient speech and language problems called dysphasic aura.

While the exact cause of migraines with aura is not fully understood, researchers believe it is primarily related to brain activity and blood flow changes. One theory is that abnormal electrical activity spreads across the brain. This abnormal activity may be linked to the hyperexcitability of specific brain cells or an imbalance of neurotransmitters. Common triggers such as stress, hormonal changes, certain foods (like chocolate or aged cheese), bright lights, strong smells, and even weather changes can precipitate an episode of migraine with aura in susceptible individuals.

Sarah's experience

Our interviewee is Sarah, who has been battling migraine with aura for six years. One of her biggest challenges regarding migraines and coping was the unpredictability of a migraine attack. She said, "As a full-time digital marketing executive and a married woman in my thirties, it was a lot for me to handle at once; I was overwhelmed; a severe headache would strike up and leave me trapped in a cycle of pain and uncertainty, followed by the unpleasant symptoms: mostly visual disturbances such as flashing lights and blurred vision."

At the time, Sarah had to hop into a journey of experimenting with a combination of preventive medication, adopting new lifestyle changes, and stress management techniques. "It was tough to cut off alcohol and cut back on caffeine," She told us. "I had to get used to a migraine episode while sleeping and adjust my sleeping schedule. I took supplements such as magnesium oxide, which did help. However, it was a trial-and-error process to find the right balance of treatments to help alleviate my symptoms, and there were still moments when migraines would flare up."

This chronic disease immensely affected her family, social, and work life. Sarah reflected, "Regardless of how unpredictable my migraines were, I am still grateful to my supportive and understanding family; my husband and young child often had to adjust their plans and activities. However, I felt guilty since I often had to cancel or leave family gatherings and social events. At work, I am still thankful to my accommodating and understanding colleagues when I had to take time off. It was emotionally challenging to accept those sudden changes."

Sarah's life plans took an unexpected turn as she had to make sacrifices, reevaluate her career goals, and accommodate her health needs: "As a highly ambitious woman, it was elusive to let go and focus on my well-being. I did not feel accomplished and fulfilled." Taking a step back and embracing a slower pace was not a walk in the park. Sarah has experienced a rollercoaster of emotions throughout the years, but this journey has made her more robust and more resilient.

Her recovery

As the years went by, Sarah's condition became relatively stable. Although she still has occasional migraine attacks, they are less frequent and less intense due to the medications, lifestyle changes, and stress management measures she has implemented.

On this note, we leave you with Sarah's final thoughts: "Going through this disease was a wake-up call to value health and treasure the moments I spend with my loved ones. I learned to appreciate the days when I could wake up without discomfort and pursue my interests without fear of crippling headaches. I learned how commonplace actions, such as sitting in front of a computer screen or eating particular foods, can impact my health.

My advice for anyone going through the same experience is always to remember that it shall all pass and that you can persevere and push through it because you are strong enough and capable of overcoming it.

It is crucial to enunciate positive affirmations as it sets the tone for your day. Surround yourself with a supportive system and seek professional help. Work with a healthcare provider to establish an effective treatment plan tailored to your needs. Try identifying triggers and make necessary lifestyle changes to minimize the frequency and severity of migraines.

I understand that life might throw curveballs at you, but these curveballs teach you a valuable lesson. My battle with migraine with aura has been an excellent opportunity to self-reflect and identify with my thoughts and feelings. Currently, I am shifting my focus to freelance work and avoiding an overloaded schedule."