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1.2 Migraine with aura

Previously used terms:

Classic or classical migraine; ophthalmic, hemiparaesthetic, hemiplegic or aphasic migraine; migraine accompagnée; complicated migraine.


Recurrent attacks, lasting minutes, of unilateral fully-reversible visual, sensory or other central nervous system symptoms that usually develop gradually and are usually followed by headache and associated migraine symptoms.

Diagnostic criteria:

A. At least two attacks fulfilling criteria B and C
B. One or more of the following fully reversible aura symptoms:

  1. visual
  2. sensory
  3. speech and/or language
  4. motor
  5. brainstem
  6. retinal

C. At least three of the following six characteristics:

  1. at least one aura symptom spreads gradually over ≥5 minutes
  2. two or more aura symptoms occur in succession
  3. each individual aura symptom lasts 5-60 minutes1
  4. at least one aura symptom is unilateral2
  5. at least one aura symptom is positive3
  6. the aura is accompanied, or followed within 60 minutes, by headache

D. Not better accounted for by another ICHD-3 diagnosis.

  1. When for example three symptoms occur during an aura, the acceptable maximal duration is 3×60 minutes. Motor symptoms may last up to 72 hours.
  2. Aphasia is always regarded as a unilateral symptom; dysarthria may or may not be.
  3. Scintillations and pins and needles are positive symptoms of aura.

Many patients who have migraine attacks with aura also have attacks without aura; they should be coded as both 1.2 Migraine with aura and 1.1 Migraine without aura.

Field testing has compared the diagnostic criteria for 1.2 Migraine with aura in the main body of ICHD-3 beta with those for A1.2 Migraine with aura in the Appendix. The latter performed better in distinguishing migraine with aura from transient ischaemic attacks. These are now adopted in ICHD-3, which no longer has Appendix criteria for this disorder.

The aura is the complex of neurological symptoms that occurs usually before the headache of 1.2 Migraine with aura, but it may begin after the headache phase has commenced, or continue into the headache phase.

Visual aura is the most common type of aura, occurring in over 90% of patients with 1.2 Migraine with aura, at least in some attacks. It often presents as a fortification spectrum: a zigzag figure near the point of fixation that may gradually spread right or left and assume a laterally convex shape with an angulated scintillating edge, leaving absolute or variable degrees of relative scotoma in its wake. In other cases, scotoma without positive phenomena may occur; this is often perceived as being of acute onset but, on scrutiny, usually enlarges gradually. In children and adolescents, less typical bilateral visual symptoms occur that may represent an aura. A visual aura rating scale with high specificity and sensitivity has been developed and validated.

Next in frequency are sensory disturbances, in the form of pins and needles moving slowly from the point of origin and affecting a greater or smaller part of one side of the body, face and/or tongue. Numbness may occur in its wake, but numbness may also be the only symptom.

Less frequent are speech disturbances, usually aphasic but often hard to categorize.

Systematic studies have demonstrated that many patients with visual aura occasionally have symptoms in the extremities and/or speech symptoms. Conversely, patients with symptoms in the extremities and/or speech or language symptoms almost always also experience visual aura symptoms at least during some attacks. A distinction between migraine with visual aura, migraine with hemiparaesthetic aura and migraine with speech and/or language aura is probably artificial, and therefore not recognized in this classification: they are all coded as 1.2.1 Migraine with typical aura.

When aura symptoms are multiple, they usually follow one another in succession, beginning with visual, then sensory, then aphasic; but the reverse and other orders have been noted. The accepted duration for most aura symptoms is one hour, but motor symptoms are often longer lasting.

Patients with aura symptoms arising from the brainstem are coded as 1.2.2 Migraine with brainstem aura, but they almost always have additional typical aura symptoms. When the aura includes motor weakness, the disorder should be coded as 1.2.3 Hemiplegic migraine or one of its subforms. 1.2.3 Hemiplegic migraine is classified as a separate subtype because of genetic and pathophysiological differences from 1.2.1 Migraine with typical aura. Patients with 1.2.3 Hemiplegic migraine often have brainstem symptoms in addition.

Patients often find it hard to describe their aura symptoms, in which case they should be instructed to time and record them prospectively. The clinical picture then becomes clearer. Common mistakes are incorrect reports of lateralization, of sudden rather than gradual onset and of monocular rather than homonymous visual disturbances, as well as of duration of aura and mistaking sensory loss for weakness. After an initial consultation, use of an aura diary may clarify the diagnosis.

Migraine aura is sometimes associated with a headache that does not fulfil criteria for 1.1 Migraine without aura, but this is still regarded as migraine headache because of its relation to the aura. In other cases, migraine aura may occur without headache.

Before or simultaneously with the onset of aura symptoms, regional cerebral blood flow is decreased in the cortex corresponding to the clinically affected area and often over a wider area. Blood flow reduction usually starts posteriorly and spreads anteriorly, and is usually above the ischaemic threshold. After one to several hours, gradual transition into hyperaemia occurs in the same region. Cortical spreading depression of Leão is the likely underlying mechanism.

The previously defined syndromes, migraine with prolonged aura and migraine with acute-onset aura, have been abandoned. It is not rare for aura to last more than one hour but, in most such cases, patients have at least two of the other characteristics of criterion C. Even when most of a patient’s attacks do not fulfil criterion C, it is usual that other attacks fulfil criteria for one of the recognized subtypes or subforms of 1.2 Migraine with aura, and this should be the diagnosis. The few other cases should be coded to 1.5.2 Probable migraine with aura, specifying the atypical feature (prolonged aura or acute onset aura) in parenthesis. The diagnosis is usually evident after a careful history alone, although there are rare secondary mimics including carotid dissection, arteriovenous malformation and seizure.

Prodromal symptoms may begin hours or a day or two before the other symptoms of a migraine attack with aura. They include various combinations of fatigue, difficulty in concentrating, neck stiffness, sensitivity to light and/or sound, nausea, blurred vision, yawning and pallor. The term “prodrome”, which has replaced “premonitory phase” or “premonitory symptoms”, does not include aura. Postdromal symptoms, most commonly fatigue and elated or depressed mood, may follow resolution of the headache, persisting for up to 48 hours; these are less well studied.