Visual Migraine

I just had a very minor visual migraine episode. As I sat down to eat lunch, my left visual field got all swirly around the edges. Now about ten minutes later, it’s almost completely gone.

I get these every couple of years, and this one was very minor. The first time it ever happened to me–about ten years ago–it was more severe, and the entire center of my visual field went almost blank.


  1. Cuttlefish says

    I get these occasionally; they used to be followed by painful migraines. I now take Maxalt MLT when I get a visual migraine, and haven’t had the head-exploding kind in years. Yay, science!

  2. Trebuchet says

    Yikes, that’s scary. Is that common? Three out of a couple dozen FTBloggers sounds like a lot.

  3. kimbeaux says

    @Trebuchet (3)

    Only 30% of migraineurs experience visual effects. (Frankly, I’m jealous of these guys because they get warning in time for oral meds like Maxalt to be effective. If you take your intervention too late after the migraine starts, then it can get “stuck” for days/weeks/months.)

    I don’t know what percentage of the general population gets migraines. I do know that many people think that it is a severe headache, rather than a type of headache, and so claim to have a migraine while not actually experiencing one.

  4. says

    I get them too. Only once was it followed by a headache, most of the time I just feel vague and unfocused for a few hours afterward. They’re pretty, but really annoying.

    I like to call them “cortical spreading depressions” when I’m feeling sciencey. Or just “migraine aura without the migraine”. I’ve looked to see if I can find a YouTube video that really shows what one looks like, but most of the simulations just don’t capture it correctly.

  5. ericjuve says

    I get these too. Visual effects along with confusion. They usually make me useless for about 20 to 30 minutes. The one thing I want to add is that they can also become more physical. I had one about a year ago that made me think I was having a stroke including numbness on my left side that started with my fingers and eventually progressed to my face and lips. I spent some time in the ER getting evaluated until the neurologist came in and asked some questions about my history. As soon as I mentioned the visual migraines he explained that my episode was due to the migraine and I was released, and relieved as well. I don’t know how common this effect is but it was scary!

  6. Brian Ogilvie says

    I have had a visual one once, while visiting some friends in DC. It started at lunch and continued for about 45 minutes while we visited the Freer and Sackler galleries. It was in only the left eye, I think, but most of the visual field was swirling around–quite the experience when looking at things like the Peacock Room. I was somewhat confused, too. I thought it was a symptom of a detached retina and was just about to tell my wife and friends that I needed to go to the emergency room when it passed.

    Come to think of it, I may have had one a decade before that, when I was sitting in my office and the text on my computer monitor suddenly stopped making sense. I walked around for 10 minutes or so and when I came back, things were back to normal. I remember feeling confused then too.

  7. Stella says

    i I get visual migraines. They last exactly twenty minutes. Since I no longer drive and am nearly blind, I rather enjoy the show. I’m not crazy about the ones that come with a feeling of confusion or distancing from reality.

    I’ve never had a visual migraine precede a painful migraine. I get migraine auras from time to time, but they are very different from the visual migraines.

    A migraine is nothing like a headache; it’s more like a seizure, in my experience.

    As my vision loss has progressed, there has been no change in what I “see” during a visual migraine. It’s all still there when I close my eyes, too.

    I do have visual migraine triggers: bright lights or long exposure to light. These may be related to the fact that the retinal disease I have makes me extremely sensitive to light.

    If you can, enjoy the little light show.


  8. says

    I get the “aura” too, preceding a headache, but my migraines-with-aura aren’t too bad: just a garden-variety bad headache, through which I’m perfectly capable of working or reading, and lifting in a few hours.

    On the other hand, my migraines-without-aura are HELLACIOUS and can last for days.

    Don’t get either very often, though.

  9. says

    I’ve had this twice, about 3 years apart – just the visuals, not the headache or any other symptoms. The first time was terrifying – I almost went to the ER, but it started to subside just as I was getting ready, so I just Googled it then saw my optometrist the next day to make sure I didn’t have a detached retina. The second time I just sighed, sat down, and waited it out.

  10. says

    I get everything going all cloudy, as if I’m looking at things from underwater. That usually lasts for several hours. When I get the sharp, dancing splinters of light, instead, the headache hits within a few minutes, but with the underwater thing, I just feel logy, so it’s hard to force myself to do anything.

    Had to get that in, but what I wanted to comment on was that I have noticed that every time anybody writes anything about migraines, their comments immediately double or triple. Usually with people telling their own symptoms. I wonder why; misery loves company, maybe?

  11. wtfwhatever says

    When you see the aura, find CAFFEINE.

    If you don’t have Excedrin for Migraines handy, buy a Mountain Dew. Maybe a Redbull.

    Open your smartphone and start keeping a migraine log. Date, time, general conditions around you, what you ate, what you are experiencing, how long it lasted.

    See your doctor. Make sure your blood pressure is under control.

    Consider seeing an ophthalmologist. The best migraine advice I was ever given was given to me by a “mall” ophthalmologist (NOT an optometrist) when I casually mentioned that bright lights in an otherwise darkened environment (like his flashlight pen shooting into my eye) could trigger migraines for me.

    Consider also seeing a neurologist. Tell them you have severe spellinge defectes, a tendency to burste into nonsensical cursing, and that most people think you’re a totale and complete asshole. All of this maye be related.

  12. says

    wtfwhatever has good advice–it all sounds kind of strokey.

    It sounds terrifying, but I suppose less irksome than the painful headachey nauseous kind of migrane.

  13. tonyinbatavia says

    My visual cue that I’m in for a head-thumping migraine is when the focus of my visual attention completely disappears. If I am looking at a computer screen, the screen disappears and I can only see the edges (and even those are dancing). When I try to focus on an edge of the screen, the dancing screen comes into view and the edge itself disappears.

    The first time this happened was about 25 years ago at the beginning of an hour-long commute home. There I was, driving as ever, and over the course of a couple minutes I realized that the car in front of me had disappeared. I kept rubbing my eyes, but it was gone from view until I tried to focus to the side of it. When my vision returned to normal, after I got home, the horrendous headache hit and stayed with me for a few hours.

    I have about one or two of these migraines a year, some not so bad, some as bad as the first. The only advantage of the visual effects — besides the wicked hallucinogenic visuals — is that I use them as a cue to take pain medication, lay down, turn out all lights, and hope it’s a mild ride.

  14. unbound says

    I get two or so migraines a year, and usually one has an aura preceding it. My auras tend to be a combination of missing fields of vision (kind of fascinating that there is a significant portion of my vision that just isn’t there…not black, just missing) and another section or two that reminds me of a broken LCD screen (very sharp jagged edges).

    As others have mentioned, the nice thing about getting an aura first is that you know you need to take an abortive pill (OTC pills do absolutely nothing for my migraines at least). Fortunately, the generic triptans work fine for me…usually with just the first dose.

    If I don’t get an aura, usually by the time I realize the pain is a migraine, it’ll be too late. The triptan doesn’t kick in for 2 to 4 hours, so I’m stuck with the migraine for a good while.

    Interestingly (for me at least) was an MRI I took when they were looking for signs of MS (a different story for a different day) is that they can actually see the damage the migraine does. I didn’t know that prior to the scans. The doctor pointed out some small white dots and said, “You get migraines don’t you”. I guess that means I’m among the few people that have proof that I get migraines and not just bad headaches (some people will argue with you about that).

  15. DaveUK says

    Scary. I have had two sub-foveal CNVs (caused by myopic macular degeneration) in the last two years and these are like a permanent (if not treated) and rapidly deteriorating ocular migraine. In a few hours, central vision is often lost and there is gross metamorphopsia, flashing, floaters, color vision deterioration, night blindness and deep blind spots. Pretty scary but so far treated with intravitreal avastin injections. Just make sure what you are seeing is not something potentially more serious like a TIA, especially if you’re getting on a little bit! A good neuro-opthamologist is key to be sure. The eyes are not to be messed with.

  16. Ah Clem says

    One more anecdote: I get them periodically, usually the left half of
    the visual field, starting like a backwards ‘C’ composed of a jagged,
    scintillating line. It gradually expands over the course of 10 minutes
    or so, finally disappearing altogether. It can sometimes interfere with

  17. blutexan says

    I’m a heart and vascular patient 12 years out from a quad CABG and I have these once or twice a year for the last several years. I lose all sight in my left eye, usually for about 20 mins or so. My cardiologist says it’s not really that common for patients like me, he only has one other patient that’s reported it. ” But don’t worry, it’s not that bad” I think I need a new doctor.

  18. says

    I get Classic Migraines, but I’ve gotten a few Complex Migraines too, those suck even worse than the Classic Migraines. I hate Migraines =(

    ((hug)) my sympathies

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