Sensory Aura

Written by: Otesa Miles | Last reviewed: August 2014 | Last updated: May 2020

Just as migraine visual aura causes vision changes, sensory aura causes changes in the other senses.

Sensory aura symptoms are typically short lived, lasting only a few minutes up to an hour on average. Most patients say the sensory aura symptoms gradually spread from one part of the body to another. Sometimes this is called a “march” of symptoms. For example, the symptoms may begin in the tips of the fingers and slowly start to spread throughout the arm and then on to another body part.

Slightly more than one-tenth of migraine sufferers complain of sensory aura. The symptoms of sensory aura usually include numbness, tingling and other “odd” sensations in the limbs, face or throughout the body.

What causes sensory aura?

There is no confirmed reason for the symptoms seen in sensory aura. Some researchers believe that sensory aura is caused by improper functioning the area of the brain stem responsible for keeping the senses under control.

Most Common Sensory Aura Symptoms

  • Sensations in the hand, 96 percent
  • Pain on one side of head, 84 percent
  • Odd feelings in the arm, 78 percent
  • Weird feelings in the face, sometimes numb face, 67 percent
  • Different sensations in the tongue, 62 percent
  • Changes in the foot, 24 percent
  • Sensations in the leg, 24 percent
  • The whole body, 18 percent

(Note: from a 1996 study of 163 people who suffer from migraine with aura.)

Because the sensory aura symptoms are not commonly thought of as typical migraine symptoms, it is easy to mistake sensory aura for other, more serious ailments such as stroke, transient ischemic attack (also called TIA or mini-stroke) or a partial seizure. Therefore it is extremely important to seek immediate medical attention if you experience these symptoms for the first time. Diagnosing these symptoms as migraine requires an examination by a migraine specialist. The doctor will also need to review your migraine history, therefore take your migraine journal with you to your appointment. Your migraine journal should contain a detailed listing of each migraine attack you’ve experienced, along with a description of each symptom and how long each sensory aura symptom lasts. In most cases of sensory aura, the symptoms don’t begin sudden, instead they ramp up slowly.

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