People who experience migraine with aura may be at a higher risk of stroke. Migraine aura can sometimes resemble stroke symptoms, so knowing the key differences is important.

Migraine with aura involves visual disturbances that occur with or without migraine pain.

Unusual moving patterns in your field of vision can be startling, especially when you aren’t sure what’s happening. Migraine with aura isn’t a stroke, and it’s not usually a sign that you’re about to have a stroke.

However, people with a history of migraine with aura may be at higher risk of stroke, so it’s important to understand the signs and symptoms of both. Migraine and stroke can occur together, but it’s rare.

Continue reading to learn more about the link between migraine aura and stroke and how to tell the difference.

Ocular migraine vs. migraine with aura

Ocular migraine is a controversial term that people have used to describe visual symptoms as part of a migraine episode. But this is not an official diagnosis.

Migraine with aura most often presents with visual symptoms but doesn’t have to. Aura can also affect hearing, sensation, or movement.

When people say “ocular migraine,” they may be talking about retinal migraine, which is more serious than migraine with aura. Retinal migraine happens in only one eye and can cause temporary blindness or, in some cases, irreversible damage.

Migraine with aura is more closely linked to stroke risk.

Learn more about the difference between migraine with aura and retinal migraine.

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According to the American Migraine Foundation, about 25–30% of people with migraine experience aura, and less than 20% have it with every attack.

Migraine with aura can involve visual distortions that might remind you of looking through a kaleidoscope. It typically affects both eyes. Symptoms can include:

  • sparkling or shimmering spots
  • colorful stars or other patterns
  • black and white patterns or zig-zag lines
  • fractured or brightly colored images
  • blind spots
  • speech changes

Visual changes often affect just one field of vision and can affect one eye or both eyes.

These can be disturbing, but they’re temporary and not usually harmful.

The attack typically lasts 5–60 minutes, after which your regular vision returns.

For some people, this aura is a warning sign that migraine pain and other symptoms will soon hit. Others have aura and pain at the same time.

An attack can also happen by itself, with no pain. This is called acephalgic migraine or silent migraine.

Having migraine with visual aura doesn’t mean you’re having a stroke or that stroke is about to happen. If you have migraine with aura, though, you may be at a higher risk of stroke.

People who have migraine with aura may be 2–3 times more likely to have an ischemic stroke. That’s when a blood clot blocks blood flow to a part of your brain.

The reason for this link isn’t fully understood. Some research suggests it may be due to the presence of other risk factors for stroke that may also be prevalent in people with migraine aura.

Migraine, in general, may increase your risk of stroke. However, migraine without aura seems to be more closely linked to hemorrhagic stroke, which is when a blood vessel in your brain bursts.

Migrainous stroke

When migraine with aura and ischemic stroke happen together, it’s called a migrainous stroke or migrainous infarction. Altered blood flow within a vessel in the brain can cause this.

Only about 0.5–1.5% of all ischemic strokes are migrainous strokes, so it’s rare. The risk of migrainous stroke is higher for females ages 45 and younger. This may be due to hormonal changes and the use of hormonal contraceptives, which increase the risk of blood clots.

Sometimes, symptoms of migraine and stroke can be similar. However, there are some key differences. Here’s what to know about the symptoms for each.

Migraine with aura Stroke
symptoms develop slowly and gradually worsensymptoms appear suddenly
positive visual symptoms: something in your vision that isn’t usually therenegative visual symptoms: blurred vision, double vision, or vision loss
can affect one or both eyes affects both eyes

Other symptoms of migraine with aura include:

Other potential stroke symptoms include:

  • severe headache, dizziness
  • weakness on one side of the body
  • loss of motor control, loss of balance
  • trouble understanding or speaking
  • confusion

A few things can make it harder to know the difference between migraine and stroke without seeing a doctor. For example:

  • Transient ischemic attack (TIA): Also known as a ministroke, a TIA occurs when there’s a temporary lack of blood flow to part of your brain. The symptoms appear suddenly and pass quickly, sometimes within minutes.
  • Hemiplegic migraine: A hemiplegic migraine causes weakness, numbness, and tingling on one side of your body. These symptoms typically start before a headache.
  • Subarachnoid hemorrhage: A subarachnoid hemorrhage happens when there’s bleeding between your brain and the tissues that cover your brain. It can cause a sudden, severe headache.

Stroke is a life threatening emergency in which every second counts. Seek immediate medical attention if you have warning signs of stroke, such as sudden:

  • vision loss or blurred vision
  • difficulty speaking or slurred speech
  • weakness, diminished coordination, or sensory changes in one side of your body
  • severe headache

Annual physicals and checkups with a neurologist for migraine prevention and treatment can help you manage the condition and lower your stroke risk. Ask a doctor about:

  • medications that can lessen the frequency of migraine attacks
  • an assessment of your risk factors for stroke
  • birth control methods that don’t increase your risk of blood clots

You can also take steps to lower your stroke risk more generally. These include important lifestyle changes like quitting smoking if you do, limiting your salt intake, and managing other conditions that may increase your risk.

Learn more about how to lower your stroke risk.

If you live with migraine, the following nonprofits provide news, information, and patient support you may find helpful:

For migraine tracking, management, and community engagement, there are many excellent, free migraine apps.

Is ocular migraine without headache a stroke risk?

Some people experience migraine aura without a headache, known as acephalgic or silent migraine. According to the American Migraine Foundation, people with silent migraine still have an increased risk of stroke.

Are aura migraines ministrokes?

Migraine aura and ministrokes (or TIAs) are distinct events, though they can often be mistaken for each other. Symptoms of migraine aura typically develop slowly, while a ministroke usually comes on suddenly.

When should I worry about ocular migraine?

Contact a doctor right away if your migraine aura symptoms last longer than 60 minutes, if you have visual changes in only one eye, or if you experience symptoms you’re not used to experiencing with your aura. These could signal a more serious concern.

Migraine with aura and stroke are two different conditions. Having an attack doesn’t mean you’re having a stroke or are about to have one. However, research has shown that people with migraine with aura are at an increased risk of stroke.

Talk with a doctor about your risk of stroke and steps you can take to lower that risk.