Clinical features of visual migraine aura: a systematic review

J Headache Pain. 2019 May 30;20(1):64. doi: 10.1186/s10194-019-1008-x.


Background: Migraine aura (MA) is a common and disabling neurological condition, characterized by transient visual, and less frequently sensory and dysphasic aura disturbances. MA is associated with an increased risk of cardiovascular disorders and is often clinically difficult to distinguish from other serious neurological disorders such as transient ischemic attacks and epilepsy. Optimal clinical classification of MA symptoms is important for more accurate diagnosis and improved understanding of the pathophysiology of MA through clinical studies.

Main body: A systematic review of previous prospective and retrospective systematic recordings of visual aura symptoms (VASs) was performed to provide an overview of the different types of visual phenomena occurring during MA and their respective frequencies in patients. We found 11 retrospective studies and three prospective studies systematically describing VASs. The number of different types of VASs reported by patients in the studies ranged from two to 23. The most common were flashes of bright light, "foggy" vision, zigzag lines, scotoma, small bright dots and 'like looking through heat waves or water'.

Conclusions: We created a comprehensive list of VAS types reported by migraine patients based on all currently available data from clinical studies, which can be used for testing and validation in future studies. We propose that, based on this work, an official list of VAS types should be developed, preferably within the context of the International Classification of Headache Disorders of the International Headache Society.

Keywords: Blurred vision; Clinical features; Migraine aura; Migraine with aura; Scintillating scotoma; Scotoma; Visual disturbances; Visual symptoms; Zigzag lines.

Publication types

  • Systematic Review

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Epilepsy / diagnosis
  • Epilepsy / epidemiology
  • Epilepsy / physiopathology
  • Female
  • Hallucinations / diagnosis
  • Hallucinations / epidemiology
  • Hallucinations / physiopathology
  • Humans
  • Ischemic Attack, Transient / diagnosis
  • Ischemic Attack, Transient / epidemiology
  • Ischemic Attack, Transient / physiopathology
  • Male
  • Migraine with Aura / diagnosis*
  • Migraine with Aura / epidemiology
  • Migraine with Aura / physiopathology*
  • Prospective Studies
  • Retrospective Studies
  • Vision, Ocular / physiology*