Complex migraine, or migraine with aura, can cause temporary paralysis on one side of the body. It often occurs with other symptoms, such as a severe headache, nausea, and sensitivity to light and sound.

“Complex migraine” is not a term that doctors use. Instead, they use the term “migraine with aura.” This type of migraine attack causes temporary paralysis or weakness on one side of the body, similar to symptoms of a stroke.

It typically occurs with other migraine symptoms, such as a severe headache, nausea, and sensitivity to light and sound.

This article outlines the symptoms, causes, and risk factors of migraine with aura. It also discusses treatment and prevention.

A note about sex and gender

Sex and gender exist on spectrums. This article will use the terms “male,” “female,” or both to refer to sex assigned at birth. Click here to learn more.

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Migraine with aura is a rare type of migraine that may result from changes in the brain’s blood vessels and nerve cells.

The symptoms can last anywhere from a few minutes to several days, and some people also experience other neurological symptoms such as numbness, confusion, or visual disturbances. The neurological symptoms involved in migraine are called aura.

Subtypes of migraine with aura include:

In some cases, people who experience migraine with aura may have a genetic predisposition and family history of this type of migraine.

Common triggers for migraine with aura include:

  • stress
  • lack of sleep
  • hormonal changes, particularly in women
  • certain foods and drinks, such as alcohol, caffeine, and aged cheeses
  • bright lights or loud noises
  • physical activity or overexertion
  • changes in weather or altitude
  • skipping meals or irregular eating patterns
  • certain medications

It is important to note that triggers can vary from person to person, and what triggers a migraine in one individual may not affect another.

Learn more about migraine triggers.

Risk factors for migraine with aura may include:

  • Sex: Migraine with aura is more common in females than males.
  • Age: Migraine with aura can occur at any age but is more common from puberty until the mid-to-late 30s. Its prevalence decreases later in life, particularly after menopause.
  • Family history: Migraine with aura may be heritable, so people may be at a higher risk if they have a family history. People with parents who experience hemiplegic migraine — a subtype of migraine with aura — have a 50% chance of developing it themselves.

Not everyone with these risk factors will experience migraine with aura, which can occur in people without any known risk factors.

Symptoms of migraine with aura typically resolve within 24 hours but can last several days. Symptoms may include:

  • paralysis or weakness on one side of the body, which may start before or during the headache
  • sensory changes, such as numbness or tingling in the face, arm, or leg on the affected side of the body
  • confusion or difficulty speaking
  • vision changes, such as temporary blindness or seeing stars
  • a severe headache, often with a pulsing or throbbing sensation
  • nausea and vomiting

Not everyone with a migraine with aura will experience all of these symptoms.

Learn more about migraine aura.

Treatment for migraine with aura may include:

  • Medications: A healthcare professional may recommend medications to help manage the headache and other symptoms. This may include over-the-counter pain relief, such as acetaminophen or ibuprofen, or prescription medications.
  • Physical therapy: Physical therapy can help improve muscle strength and function if paralysis or weakness occurs due to migraine with aura.
  • Other treatments: Depending on the severity of a person’s migraine and other factors, healthcare professionals may recommend complementary treatments, such as acupuncture or relaxation techniques.

Learn about acupuncture for migraine.

Preventing migraine with aura can be challenging, as its causes are unclear. However, there are ways for people to help reduce their risk, including:

  • Identifying and avoiding triggers: A person can try keeping a migraine journal where they note potential triggers, such as foods, stress, or weather changes. This can help identify things that may bring on a migraine attack.
  • Managing stress: Stress can be a significant trigger for migraine. Finding ways to manage stress, such as through exercise, yoga, or meditation, can help reduce someone’s migraine risk.
  • Getting enough sleep: Lack of sleep can also trigger migraine. People should aim for at least 7–8 hours of sleep each night and maintain a regular sleep schedule.
  • Avoiding certain medications: Some medications can trigger migraine. A person can speak with a doctor about alternative options.
  • Taking preventive medications: If someone experiences frequent and severe migraine with aura, healthcare professionals may recommend preventive medications to reduce their frequency.

It is important to remember that what works for one person might not work for another. Individuals should work with a healthcare professional to determine the best approach for them.

Find 15 home remedies for migraine relief and prevention.

People should consult a doctor if they have symptoms of migraine with aura. They can help determine the cause and provide appropriate treatment.

If a person has a diagnosis of migraine with aura and their symptoms worsen or do not respond to treatment, they should contact a doctor for assessment.

Headache and migraine resources

To discover more evidence-based information and resources for headaches and migraine, visit our dedicated hub.

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The outlook for people with migraine with aura can vary depending on the severity of the condition and how well they respond to treatment. Migraine with aura may be mild and infrequent for some people and severe and frequent for others, affecting their quality of life.

These individuals may require ongoing treatment and lifestyle changes to manage their condition.

However, with proper diagnosis and treatment, many people with this type of migraine can manage their symptoms and reduce their frequency and severity.

Treating migraine with aura can be challenging, and finding the most effective treatment plan may take time and experimentation.

Regular follow-ups with a healthcare professional are essential for monitoring the effect of treatment and making any necessary adjustments.

Migraine with aura is rare and causes temporary paralysis or weakness on one side of the body. Other symptoms include severe headache, nausea, and sensitivity to light and sound. People may inherit a predisposition to this type of migraine caused by changes in brain blood vessels and nerve cells.

Triggers, symptoms, and treatment for migraine with aura can vary from person to person.

Lifestyle changes, such as getting enough sleep, reducing stress, and avoiding triggers, can help reduce the frequency of migraine with aura. Medications, physical therapy, and other treatments may also improve the overall quality of a person’s life.