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My doctor says I'm having migraines with aura after exercise but I'm skeptical

My symptoms have always come on after intense exercise all but one time. It's usually and hour or so after exercise. That one time was when I had raisin bran cereal for breakfast and skipped my mid - morning snack and around noon I felt the symptoms coming on:

The symptoms start with a visual disturbance. It seems to start in my peripheral vision and progresses into my peripheral vision slowing closing in, and it gets difficult to focus on text on a screen. The first time it happened, I had finished exercising outside and had gotten pretty hot. I went inside to cool off and started noticing the visual disturbance. I laid down on the couch after a while and told my wife how I felt. A little while later my vision was so bad I was getting very anxious and thought I was going to pass out. I was given a glass of cold sweet tea. After a little while after drinking the iced tea I started to feel better but I was getting a very bad headache.

Since that day over 20 years ago, it's happened rarely and usually after intense weightlifting exercise, all but one time. Every time I start to notice the visual disturbance, if I get up and drink something sweet fast enough, it quickly subsides and I either won't get a headache or the headache will be very mild. If I wait too long and eat something sweet instead of drinking, it takes longer to feel better. The longer I wait and the longer I feel the visual disturbances progressing, the worse my headache will be. I've never let it go without drinking something sweet because of course I don't want to pass out or go blind.

I was thinking that it was caused by a blood sugar issue, so I was prepared by buying a glucose meter from Walmart. The next time it happened, I checked my glucose and it was 116 which is good. I've had physicals done multiple times in the past year and each time my fasting glucose and insulin was good.

My doctor says it's migraine with aura, but I'm skeptical since I never get the migraine if I drink something sweet quickly. The intensity of my headache seems to be directly related to how long I let the visual disturbances progress before I get enough sugar. I don't think I have reactive hypoglycemia, because I can eat something really sweet like a huge piece of cake before bed (I don't do this often) and I don't wake up overnight craving sugar or have the incident. Last time this happened I had kept my blood sugar steady by having a good breakfast with protein, fats, fiber, and carbs, then I ate a small snack before going to the gym mid morning, drank a small gatorade while lifting. Then when I got home from the gym after doing a heavy leg workout, it was time for lunch. I ate a good healthy lunch. Then about an hour later I felt the symptoms coming on and I checked my glucose and it was 116. I then drank some ginger ale which spiked my glucose up to 166 an hour later. Then two hours after that my glucose was down to 97. My fasting glucose is usually in the 80's.

My mother and maternal grandfather had migraines but they were always stress related. I have been though some incredible stress in my life and never had a migraine from it, only the symptoms after very intense exercise, usually weightlifting but one time it happened after running a mile and a half and I was out of shape.

Can anyone confirm that what I'm having is migraine with aura or have any idea what else it could be?

  1. Hello,
    I’ve had something visually similar but not associated with exercise. I actually can’t link it to any activity, it just happens spontaneously for me. I gradually lose vision in my left eye only for approx five minutes of less. Starts similar to the visual feeling you get when your about to pass out and gradually I lose all sight. Went to many doctors and was told it may be related to drops in blood pressure, a possible blood vessel being constructed but more than likely I’m having eye migraines. I’ve had migraines for years, just never anything visual.

    1. Hi ,
      I'm sorry to hear you are having to experience this. Have you seen a neurologist for this condition or only ophthalmologists? If this is related to migraine attacks, you should see a neurologist, even if they have to refer you to an optical neurologist. I found an article about this on our site that I hope may help.

      I hope you get some answers soon!

      Peggy ( team)

  2. Hi, stebe. Thanks for reaching out. We can't give medical advice on the site for your safety, but we can give you some things to consider. First, migraine can be brought on by all kinds of things, including diet and exercise (or lack of exercise). For some people, they can find relief if they do a certain activity or eat/drink something quickly, as you do with the sweet drinks. Many people here even crave certain kinds of food during or after a migraine.

    I know you are skeptical, but your visual and headache symptoms coupled with the family history makes me think it's worth considering migraines. Are you working with a neurologist at this point? Ideally, we recommend trying to find a headache specialist in your area. (Not all neurologists specialize in headaches.) I am also a big fan of getting a second (or 3rd, etc) opinion when you're trying to get to the bottom of what's going on.

    If you haven't already, it may be useful for you to track your experiences either on paper or on a computer, so you can share them with your care team and look for potential triggers.

    Please know that we are here to support you and provide resources where we can, even if you end up not having migraine. Fingers crossed for you it's something with an easy fix -- keep us posted, okay?

    Best wishes,
    Melissa, team

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