August 20, 2009

Migraine Typing

I type pretty well, and I sometimes get migraine headaches. They seem unrelated, but they weren’t a few weeks ago when I had a neurological event I’d never experienced before. I’ve been thinking about it a lot since then, and since I’m a fan of science writing about neurology, I thought I’d make a contribution to the genre. But I’m not a scientist, so it’s more of a personal anecdote than a science essay. This case study is more case than study.

migraine typing

I can go for years without a migraine, and then get one out of the blue. Sometimes I get a cluster of migraines spread out over a few weeks, and then nothing for several years. I have yet to figure out what triggers my migraines. None of the common triggers — caffeine, stress, cheese, etc — seem to affect me. When the headaches come, they last about 6 to 8 hours. From what I hear about other migraine sufferers, I’m lucky they only last that long.

My migraines are almost always preceded by about 30 minutes of visual phenomena that neurologists call “auras.” I’ve never liked the word because saying that I see auras is too loaded with supernatural suggestions. But I know it’s the accepted medical term, so I’ve taken to using it.

Auras are not atypical for migraine sufferers. In fact, migraines with auras are referred to as “classic” migraines. For me, an aura usually starts out as a tiny shimmering spot in the center of my vision. It looks a bit like the after-image you see when someone takes a flash photo of you. Instead of fading like the after-image from a flash would, the spot slowly grows. As it gets bigger, I can see that it has details: it is a colorful shimmering crescent wrapped around a white circle. Gradually, over the course of 20 minutes or so, it grows until the white center fills my entire field of vision. I’m temporarily blind. And then, over the next few minutes it slowly fades away until my vision is back to normal.

I try to consider these auras as early warning systems. If I take medicine as soon as they begin (in my case Excedrin Migraine can do the trick) the headache might be mild or even abort altogether. But if it doesn’t work, then awful pain and sensory hyper-sensitivity kick in for the next 6 to 8 hours.

Before the particular migraine episode that this story is about, I don’t think I’d had a migraine in about five years. Sometimes I would accidentally glance at a bright light and confuse the after-image for the beginning of a migraine, but happily those incidents all turned out to be false alarms. So I certainly wasn’t expecting a migraine on this particular morning when I was sitting in the living room typing a business e-mail on the laptop computer.

I’ve been touch typing for the past 20 years in a manner that would please Mavis Beacon, with my fingers resting on the home row and my eyes on the screen. I don’t think about what my fingers are doing. They move quickly across the keys on their own, tapping out words like it’s second nature as I merely think about what I want to write. When I mistype something, I can feel it in my fingers before I notice it on screen, and sometimes I instinctively backspace to correct it before I even realize I’ve made the mistake.

On the morning in question, I was a few words into a sentence several paragraphs into the email when I realized that nothing I intended to type in that sentence actually made it to the screen. Instead there was just a stream of gibberish. Sometimes this can happen when my fingers accidentally start out in the wrong position; I might type a few words before realizing that my fingers are positioned one key to the right. So I erased the sentence, repositioned my fingers, and started over.

Again, my fingers were typing nonsense. Could I have made the same mistake twice? No, I was definitely starting out in the correct position. I watched my fingers move as I typed. Nothing looked wrong. The sensation was just as familiar as any other time I typed. My fingers moved with the same confidence, as though they knew exactly where they were going to reach the letters they needed to hit. And yet: gibberish on the screen.

I concentrated on typing just one word correctly. Nope. Gibberish.

In the space of a few seconds, I wondered several things. It seemed to me that something neurological was happening. Was it a stroke? I began to see the beginning of a visual aura, and concluded with relief that a migraine was affecting my typing. But I’d never had any early warning other than the visual auras before. Why was I having this now? Is it possible that I would have experienced this if I had been typing during the onset of previous migraines, or was this migraine just manifesting itself differently?

If my fingers were just typing gibberish, how did they know what particular gibberish to type? For example, why did my left middle finger, which only types the letters e, d, and c, know that it was its turn to type the wrong letter instead of another finger’s turn? Were the correct signals still being sent, but to the wrong finger? In retrospect I wonder, if I had kept the gibberish instead of erasing it, would it turn out to be a simple substitution cipher for whatever I meant to type, or was it truly complete gibberish?

The famous neurologist Oliver Sacks, himself a migraineur, wrote a book called Migraine in which he describes a variety of interesting symptoms of migraine sufferers. It’s not unheard of for some people to experience language disorders during their auras, a condition known as aphasia.. They may be unable to speak even though they understand people clearly. Or they may have trouble understanding what people are saying, as though they are hearing a foreign language. I wonder if this extends to written language. Is it possible that I was actually typing correctly all along, but the words were simply unrecognizable to my brain?

I had planned on writing about this last week, but I didn’t get a chance. Life intervened in the form of another neurological event totally new to me and with which I’m now equally fascinated: amnesia. On Tuesday afternoon, I was lying on the couch in my living room, surfing the web with my iPhone. That’s the last memory I have before waking up in the bathtub, dry and clothed, with my glasses broken and my head bleeding, and no idea how I got there.

Don’t worry. I’m fine now. But that’s a story for another time.

Further reading:
An article by Oliver Sacks about migraine auras in the New York Times.
A slideshow of migraine art that accompanied the article.’s web page about migraine aphasia.
The Daily Headache, the blog of a migraine sufferer who has headaches much worse than I do, and links to other migraineurs who blog about their symptoms.


Jesus. I get migraines, too, but yours seem to be more interesting than mine, though much less frequent. I get a couple a week, but I suspect from your essay that mine aren’t as severe as yours. Oddly, Excedrin Migraine (which, I’ve been told, is really just Excedrin with the word “Migraine” on the bottle) does nothing for me. Only Imitrex has ever relieved one of mine once it’s started. Then again, I don’t get auras to tell me when to take some pills.

Anyway, that last paragraph was kind of terrifying–you’re going to see a doctor, right?

True, Excedrin Migraine is the same thing as Excedrin (250 mg of acetaminophen, 250 mg of aspirin, and 65 mg of caffeine). At least it’s the same as Extra Strength Excedrin. The amounts may be different in other variations of the product.

And yes, I’ve been to several doctors now. The short answer to what happened, as near as we can figure out: I had food poisoning that day, which triggered a vasovagal response (common form of fainting that can be triggered by almost anything). I fainted, hit my head, and had a concussion. The concussion gave me amnesia of the events leading up to the trauma — basically whatever wasn’t yet in fixed memory but still in random access memory. So I don’t even know why I was in the bathroom when I passed out. I may have gone there to get some medicine for my stomach. Pretty scary day, and now I’m totally fascinated by memory loss. I’ve been reading up on it a lot, and may write something about it in the future. - David

When i get a migraine I have noticed a significant gain in typo’s, however, nothing to this extent. I am a digital artist and spend a lot of time in front of the computer, so generally when I get one I have to just keep on trucking.

I’ve been getting the “classic” migraine for probably 15 years now. Less and less as the years go by, but your description of the entire thing is the closest to my own experiences with them that I’ve ever read. It’s extremely difficult to explain to people who’ve never had one, especially the auras. I’ve definitely noticed typos at the onset of migraines, especially if I’m at work and trying to write an email in office-speak. I also can’t speak very well until the aura goes away. Slight slur, disjointed thoughts poorly translated from brain to mouth.

I don’t smoke, but years ago a doctor, strangely, suggested bumming a smoke when I feel a migraine coming on. The jolt of nicotine almost always does the job, even if the aura/headache is replaced by nausea and dizziness for a few minutes.

Also, Star Trek: Generations was on TV a couple weeks ago. Ever see it? The Nexus electrical thing that’s rolling through space looks and behaves exactly like a migraine aura, right? Except my auras aren’t a Dickensian heaven for Picard.

As one sufferer to another, I’d just like to say that your description of your migraines is exactly—down to the detail of the shape of the aura’s growth—the same kind of migraine I get.

I’ve had the weird typing thing happen before a couple of times right before getting wiped out by a migraine. So, uh, you’re not the only one, I guess?

My mother has actually experienced the same typing phenomenon, and normally gets the auras/blindness, too. I believe the typing oddity has only happened once or twice. The first time, after noticing she couldn’t type what she intended, she thought trying to speak the word aloud might help. However, when she spoke, she could only talk gibberish. Like you, she thought she might be having a stroke and managed to have someone call my sister and get her to the hospital. I don’t think they ever did come up with a satisfactory explanation for what happened.

I’ve been getting the aura on and off since I was 19 (40 years ago), but never have had the actual migraine. I’m told this is called a ‘silent migraine’. Glad to have read this, though. If the typing thing ever happens, I’ll know it’s not just me!

Have you always had migraines or did they begin to manifest themselves at a certain age? In my case, I had terrible migraines as a child. I didn’t see auras with my eyes open, but I did see them very brightly with my eyes shut. But my migraines made me hypersensitive to light, so I had my eyes clamped shut anyway. The only cure was usually to take an aspirin, which my body would always reject leaving me to vomit and dry heave for a few minutes. This exhausted me to the point where I could fall asleep, and I would wake up feeling better.

At some point after puberty, I stopped getting migraines. I still get headaches pretty regularly, but nothing like when I was a child.

Michelle: My wife was talking to me at the time, and I had no trouble understanding her. When she asked what was wrong, I had no trouble talking. It was just the typing.

Alex: My first migraine came as a sophomore in high school, while I was at an after-school event. Then nothing until my senior year of college, when I had a lot of migraines in the weeks leading up to graduation. I’ve gotten them intermittently every few years since then, usually (but not always) in clusters.


Fascinating. I’ve always been intrigued by migraines. I got them quite regularly and badly in my early teens but, back then, I don’t think the word aura was used. My “visual disturbances” would be mainly obscured, horizontal fuzzy and flashing lines. Usually two, sometimes three, and they’d get gradually wider. That would last about an hour, and only when they stopped did I get a mind-bending headache. I’m incredibly lucky that I don’t get them much any more, once every two or three years, and I have great sympathy with anyone who has a “proper” migraine.

The worst I had rendered me almost completely helpless. Couldn’t feel or move my left leg, then both of them went, which is what my mother suffered from when she was young. It’s amazing what the different forms of disability it can take.

The best bit for me, though, was the high when the headache passed. My mum also had this - everything seemed brighter, clearer and more vibrant for a good few hours, as though I was on some kind of drug! Amazing, joyous feeling. Our family doctor was an expert in migraines and said this was quite rare and he didn’t know what caused it, so it was a weird thing to have and great fun!

I get migraines all the time, and while I’m never very sensative to light, it’s almost impossible to understand people when they talk to me. I have to think about what they said, one sentence at a time, before I comprehend it. I also can’t read or write. When I try to read, I just see random clusters of letters that make no sense.

So, I think that you were right in guessing that you were typing the words correctly, but you could not recognize them.

I don’t see auras before a migraine starts. I can always tell one is coming on because one half of my body goes numb, one body part at a time. Does this happen to anyone else?

Judging from this article, turned up via PubMed, the typing connection may have been studied: “Visual Field Effects of Classical Migraine” (doi:10.1006/brcg.1993.1014), D.B. Boles, Rensselaer Polytech Inst, Dept. Psych., Troy, NY, in Brain and Cognition, vol. 21, no. 2, March ‘93, pp. 181-191.

From the abstract, “Four […] tasks” (including typing) “were repeatedly presented to a single subject over a 2.5 year span, during both classical migraine attacks and headache-free periods. […] All four tasks produced […] results generally consistent with a phasic impairment of function in the migrainous hemisphere. A content analysis of notes made during the attacks suggests that among other symptoms, alphabetic indistinctiveness and spatial disturbances are characteristic of left and right hemisphere attacks respectively.”

Haven’t been here in awhile and this is the first story I’ve read in months. Glad to hear there’s at least a partial explanation for what happened to you.

Whenever that happens to me, it means I’ve accidentally switched my keyboard into dvorak :P

Wow, this is pretty much an exact description of my migraines, too. I sometimes go years between them, and then might get a few within the space of a couple of months.

My auras are almost always different from each other, although mainly vision related. I most frequently get the “dead zone” with the shimmering edges, but sometimes get tunnel vision or my entire sight fades to white for a short period. If I can get to any meds the actual headache isn’t as intense and lasts only a few hours.

But I have a had a few that mess up my perceptions. I’ve talked gibberish (scary!), hallucinated someone was talking to me, had text in a book turn to gibberish, too. I know it’s not just my perceptions, as I’ve hand written notes that make no sense during the aura. Very odd.

My last aura, though, was a “silent migraine” where the headache never came. I was driving down the highway when i realized that my left eye was entirely out of focus. Once I noticed it, I couldn’t stop fixating on it and had to drive with that eye closed. It really freaked me out, as it didn’t go away until i went to sleep hours later. It didn’t realize it was a migraine until I woke up and it was back to normal.

I, too, have had silent migraines: aura with no pain. Usually stress-induced, I think. My aura is usually the visual disturbance you describe: blind spot and jagged colorful edges.

My first one was accompanied by aphasia: difficulty understanding what people were saying, and even more difficulty transforming my thoughts into words. I had to say/type things very slowly. My husband got a real kick out of it. I was 7 months pregnant and a little worried that I’d never communicate again. I did go to the hospital and they checked me for stroke (negative).

Cripes, that amnesia episode sounds terrifying. Put up some cameras to record yourself, just in case it happens again.

I get auras too, very much like yours, but mine seem to undulate, and grow so that it takes up the vision in only one eye.

Bizarre, eh?

My partner experiences something like that gibberish typing when his sugar is low, but I don’t think it’s quite like you described.

I get auras too, very much like yours, but mine seem to undulate, and grow so that it takes up the vision in only one eye.

Bizarre, eh?

My partner experiences something like that gibberish typing when his sugar is low, but I don’t think it’s quite like you described.

That last bit is scary.

I once had a migraine in which my left eye basically stopped working. I couldn’t see out of it, and it also wasn’t even moving in sync with the other eye -just barely moving at all. Then, for about 24 hours after, my pupils were different sizes (dramatically different, to the point where people really cringed when looking at me). That was really freaky. I thought I was having a stroke or something. A neurologist (actually named Dr. Moriarty, no kidding) confirmed that it was “just” a migraine.

Migraines such, I get them too often. Be sure to go to the hospital when you get a really “unusual” one, though, as long-time migraineurs are prone to trying to sleep of strokes (and such) on the assumption that it’s “just” another migraine…

I suffer from the exact same migraines as you do, on roughly the same schedule as yours. The only thing close to what you’re describing I’ve experienced is that in the middle of one migraine (after the aura) I found myself suddenly unable to read. I was staring at a book in my hands and the words suddenly made no sense. I could concentrate and identify single letters, but not a single word. When the migraine was over, it stopped and I was fine.

Wish you best of luck.

david, thanks for a really great article!

i have suffered for years from migraine, both with and without aura. i find it quite interesting how aura often creates temporary stroke-like symptoms, which leads me to mention the connection (in pre-menopausal women) between classic migraine and ischemic stroke. these women should be aware of their risk and should seek their doctors help to quit smoking and to find a source of birth control other than oral/hormonal contraceptives, as they further increase their risk for stroke.

you’re very lucky to have something like excederin ease your migraines…they and other OTC’s don’t work for me, and my Rx meds only work some of the time, and even then, rarely work well.

i’ve included wiki’s page on aura symptoms; many do not know that auras are not just visual disturbances:

Hey - found your blog today thanks to your pre-pixelated logo clothing. I really enjoy your writing!

My first migraine occurred when I was working at the college bookstore, ringing up a customer. She handed me a check and I held it before me to verify what was on it. Whole parts of the check disappeared. I just saw blank areas. I looked at her and could only see half her face. It scared the bejeebers out of me! I had a friend drive me to my doctor’s office because I was afraid I was having a blood pressure blowout or something, really had no idea what it could be.e My doctor told me it was a migraine.

It turns out I have a strong family history of them on my mother’s side.

I get them several times a year. Thank God it’s not more often! One thing I know triggers them is flickering fluorescent lights. The majority of the time, I notice an aura in the form of squiggly lines in my peripheral vision, often in reds and blues. When that happens, I become filled with dread. It’s such an awful feeling knowing one may be coming!

If I’m near a coffee shop when this happens, I take aspirin and get a double shot of espresso and chug it. That sometimes helps keep them from coming on full strength.

I used to get migraines on the same frequency with and without auras. I finally connected them with the consumption of onions and or chocolate. Especially raw onions. Other things that would trigger them is Soy Sauce, Worcestershire Sauce and any high salt content item. It has taken a long time to find all this out but I have not had an attack in over 10yrs. I hope you can find what triggers yours. Migraines really suck.

I used to get migraines on the same frequency with and without auras. I finally connected them with the consumption of onions and or chocolate. Especially raw onions. Other things that would trigger them is Soy Sauce, Worcestershire Sauce and any high salt content item. It has taken a long time to find all this out but I have not had an attack in over 10yrs. I hope you can find what triggers yours. Migraines really suck.

So sorry you’re having these issues. I wish you well.

Absolutely fascinating! I haven’t noticed typing problems, but I usually back away from the computer pretty early on in the migraine process. Too painful to focus on the glowing screen.

I’ve only had a visual aura once, before a particularly bad episode. Usually I get what feels like a pulled muscle in my neck: kind of sore and stiff.

Like one of the previous posters said, it is such a relief when it is over that a sort of euphoria sets in. A good reminder to be grateful that I don’t have chronic pain, and to be sympathetic to those who do.

Yep, another in the list of people who have migraines with auras here. Your description of the auras sounds like how I would describe mine, though I thought they were called “complicated” migraines (which probably shows how long I’ve been having them, given that term is apparently outdated).

Sorry you have them; a bit envious at the infrequency. ;)

My auras are usually just black-and-white static like on an old television, starting with a dot in the center of my vision and becoming a doughnut that expands outward over the course of about ten minutes — and when the static is almost gone, that’s when the pain begins.

Recently, though, I got an aura that looked a lot like yours:
Like this, except with a black background because I was in a dark room with the door closed, and the black and white stripes toggled, so they’d be white-and-black for a split second and then back again, over and over.

Good grief, Dave, you should have that checked out. I had to smile at Excedrin Migraine - that’s the only thing that works for me, too.

I had a very similar experience, except that I was at work and talking and writing took extraordinary effort! I had trouble forming words even though I felt mostly in control of my cognitive abilities.

This is an excellent description of a classic migraine, at least the ones I experience. I would stay away from Excedrin Migraine myself as caffeine and analgesics both can cause rebound headaches.

You mentioned trying to track your triggers. There’s a free migraine diary site I developed to track my own migraines and report on them. You can check it out at

BTW, your migraine aura image is the face of fear for me. It’s all too accurate…

The few migraines - thank God they’ve been rare - start with Scintillating Scotomas (very much like the “black-and-white static like on an old television” as described above). They seemed to be triggered by food poisoning.

Not to give unsolicited medical advice, but the last part, about ending up in the bathtub with broken glasses and a bloodied head sound a lot like seizure. I have epilepsy, and the confusion, broken glasses and bruises and/or head injury can happen quite frequently when having a seizure. I also get hemoplegic migraines (which mimic stroke symptoms). The change in symptoms could be brought on by stress. My neurologist sent me to Mayo when I went through the stroke symptoms the first time and they decided they were stress-related. Sorry to hear you’ve gone through this. Hope you feel better soon.

Based on my vast medical expertise (i.e. watching several episodes of Royal Pains, House, and Mental), I’d concur with Rua that this sounds like a seizure.

Maybe you should see a doctor. This sounds serious.

I’ve seen the white shape surrounded by colors. I can’t predict when I’ll see it, nor do I understand why I see it, but I believe it’s only been when my eyes are shut- the image doesn’t just “appear” to me when my eyes are open. I’ve never had a migraine nor do I get frequent headaches. I used to think I must have a tumor and that somehow I was seeing the shape of it as a white blob. Interesting.

Last night I spent 6 hours in the ER for my second migraine ever (the first one was 10 years ago). My experience was very similar to what you have explained here (except no waking up in a bathtub). I started with some orientation while driving 3 days ago. Then last night I have the same weird aura you explained. What scared me though was a sudden inability to read. I suddenly did not recognize words. after awhile I felt like I could read but my husband said I was talking jibberish. It was so scary. When I got to the ER I couldn’t think of the correct words to describe how I was feeling. I also was having trouble writing. It only lasted about an hour and then I started to have a headache which has lasted until now. They did a cat scan but found nothing. So I am guessing it is a migraine.

My mom and I both get migraines, mine have been since age seven. They have gotten SO MUCH better as I have aged. I used to get violently ill. My mom gets “occular” migraines, which is similar to what you are describing. Very strange!

I can get the same kind of migraine with prominent auras, though they start on the right side of my vision. I have described them like water or oil on a windshield to people, a shifting rainbow pattern. If I quickly lie down and relax it can often pass without the headache starting, otherwise the pain starts after the auras go away.

This started after I had bent my neck more than it should in a snowboarding crash, in my late teens. It has almost always happened during times with heavy stress, which luckily has been several years apart.

I find your blog fascinating :) Cheers!

Me too, +1, etc.

I remember my first migraine clearly. It was about 24 years ago, and I was watching “Knight Rider” on TV. I couldn’t really make out what was going on on screen, so I went to close the curtains to block the sunlight.

It didn’t work. I realised it was actually a growing blob of nothing in front of me. The opposite of tunnel vision. Very much like the sparkles and fog you momentarily get when you rub your eyes too hard. Your description sounds just about right.

A few years ago, I went for interview at Orange UK one day, and a minute into the interview, I realised I couldn’t actually see. By the end of the interview, I was nursing a full-on thumping headache. I managed to hold myself together until the end, at which point I ran outside and threw up in the bushes. Didn’t get the job.

Luckily, I rarely get them anymore. It used to be every few weeks, with a particular incident lasting about 3 days in all. Now it’s about once a year.

The thing that really gets me about migraines, other than the excruciating pain and the >50 IQ point drop is that I’m completely wiped out for a couple of days afterwards. Totally exhausted. Even _thinking_ is too much effort.

I have had migraines since childhood but thankfully they are intermittant and only get perhaps two or three a year or two or more.
But lately I have gotten 3 or 4 in the last few weeks. Terribly painful; just want and need to sit absolutely motionless and in the dark.
I, too, am a photographer. And I just got my first iPhone about six weeks ago. I also got new glasses. I have been spending a tremendous amount of time playing with digital images on the iPhone. Taking photos, editing them, digitally retouching them, etc. Looking at this small screen through new glasses seems to be a formula to set off migraines. Constantly flipping through hundreds or thousands of images on the iPhone is obviously something which seems to set migraines off. So are strobes in the studio. For me, no medication really worked.
Still, I’m thankful I don’t get migraines more frequently. Your story and the responses by others are quite insightful. Thank you. Steven

Hello, like most fellow commenters I’m a migraine sufferer as well. What always troubled me was the trigger - like you, I couldn’t figure out what it was. I tracked my activities and eating, but there weren’t any patterns. After puberty they lessened up and I started noticing a pattern - with the weather. Those two weeks when summer is ending and it’s cooling off, or when winter is over and it’s warming up, I always get a string of starter migraines. (They don’t turn into real ones because I carry Maxalt with me wherever I go.)

So there’s my bit of advice - maybe has to do with barometric pressure?

This is exactly the same type of migraine that I have. My treatment is to drink a couple of cups of coffee, listen to some good music and just rest in a dark room.

There is no danger in having what we call “Eye migraine”.

Hope you get better!

I, too, am a migraineur for over 13 years. Started at 43. The menopause years. Started with just the awful one-sided headaches and I was down for the count for the weekend. Always the weekend. Must be something to the “relaxed” theory. Fortunately, I never missed a day of work. Now, at 55, I get more silent migraines. I am glad to read your description of typing problems. The other night, I had migraine auras- the usual- blurry vision, scintillating scotomas. But then and here was the scary part for me: after the vision cleared up, I could see the words on my laptop screen, but I couldn’t comprehend what I was reading. Definitely some tpye of receptive language problem. Not sure if a neurologist would call this receptive aphasia. Thanks again for your blog and the info. I am a neuro nurse and the similarities between migraine and stroke scare the heck out of me. We see a lot of migraineurs who come in with CVA’s. I’m worried I may pass off my own symptoms some day as just another migraine.

Me too. I got my first one at Uni when I was about 19. I thought I was losing my sight -had no idea what it was! An after image from seeing a bright light that grows and fills my whole field of vision. And then a mild headache with nausea.

I find that Migraleve stops it in its tracks if you take one as soon as the first after image appears. I keep them everywhere now, including in my car (had one driving down the motorway once - that was fun, trying to get to a service station before I went completely blind.) I’ve also, very recently, started to see a link with dehydration and/or blood sugar. (late night on the booze followed by an early morning skipping breakfast will often set one off.) I managed to fend one off the other day with a bottle of water and a bag of Fruit Pastilles.

What a great read - as another sufferer it’s fascinating to hear how the auras differ from person to person.

Strangely, no one has mentioned mine. I barely get a visual aura (basically everything has a purplish after-image, but that’s it). Rather, I get clumsy. Like trip over my own feet, drop cups of tea, bump into walls clumsy. My neuro explained it all has to do with what part of the brain is being affected; in my case it’s the motor neurons. Of course, once the aura finishes, I’m in the same pain boat as everyone else (yay for Maxalt!).

I hope this can help. I’ve never had migraines, but have had the exact visual aura you described and illustrated. It happened on at least three separate occasions, years apart, after eating apples (non-organic)- my theory is a reaction to pesticides. Looked like little dancing stained glass windows, visible even with eyes closed. It started as a small blob, just off center, and grew to a crescent over about 20 minutes before dissipating.

I just wanted to let you know that yes, it is common for aphasia to aflict those with migraines. Other interesting symptoms I’ve experienced: I could speak but not read (letters and numbers looked like an alien language no matter how much I concentrated on them). Alternatively, sometimes I could speak and read but had a complete lack of awareness of my surrounding situation including an inability to recognize my family’s faces. Strange, huh.

same thing happens with mine. I had one about 10 years ago that was so bad I couldn’t see, walk, or speak - they thought I was having a stroke. Migraines suck.

Thanks for writing about this!
Your aura illustration, although a static image, is pretty spot-on.
I’ve experienced the occasional terrible headache with sensitivity to light and sound for a long while, but only in the last few years did I begin experiencing the aura effect pre-headache. At first I thought something had ruptured or crystallized inside my eye! I painted my own artistic redition of the unfortunately-named aura in Gimp one time after a particularly dazzling rainbow crescent. I’m curious as to the physiological basis of this particular shape that imposes itself on the visual field of migrane sufferers.

I get migraines with that EXACT visual aura too. After the flashing crescent goes away though, half my body goes completely numb, one part at a time. The first time it happened they gave me an MRI to rule out stroke. I’ve never tried typing during an aura but next time I’ll give it a try. Migraines sure do some bizarre stuff.

You might want to speak about “migraine ophthalmic” with your physician.

Treat the illness when the visual problems appears -> no headache (what is this non sense about café and cheese ? caffeine is the basis has a beneficial effect on the contrary!)

I have been experiencing migraine auras with slight headaches for about twenty years. Just recently I was driving and my eyes wouldn’t work together - lost focus. By managing to close one eye I managed to keep going but very scary. Had a migraine aura about five minutes later. Mine seem to have no cause - I can go for three or four weeks without any problems and then get one everyday for a week. Bright lights certainly don’t help. Ibrupofren seem to help headache.

About the thing you call an “aura”…

I have had them about 3 times so far, and i don’t get migraines ever. The EXACT same thing happens to me: I see a small kind of throbbing, see-through yet rainbow like thing starting near the centre of my eye. If i try to look at it with my peripheral vision, i can make out a bunch of triangles and squares and shapes that make up the thing. I can close one eye and open another but its still in the exact same spot, meaning it has nothing to do with either eye, but something to do with the way the brain perceives or communicates or something.

This spot grows very slowly and any attempts to stop it are futile :P. I don’t get the whole thing to grow until it blinds me but it’s gotten to about 1/5 of my entire sight of vision.

It’s kind of funny how i randomly stumbled upon this article, when about a month back i was searching on the internet to figure out what the phenomenon i was having was; but i wasn’t able to find the exact term for it.

Your experience is exactly the closest to anything i’ve ever had, and i was wondering if you have figured out what exactly it is.

Wow, I’m not the only one who sees weird squiggly rainbow shapes during migraines. Mine are just like others have mentioned, only mine aren’t always a certain sort of shape - sometimes they’re just random shapes, not the crescents many see. Often times they even grow and change shapes too, but they always look like the edges are rivers of moving colors, swirling round and round. Reminds me of a worm-hole or rip in time like you’d see on Star Trek. After those swirly things show up I start to lose depth perception and usually end up with a white-out in part of my field of vision. Thank god for Maxalt and Percocet when that starts - within minutes I’m usually in so much pain I’d rather have someone shoot my head off with a shotgun, no kidding. I’ve tried various OTC meds, but have learned from experience it’s best to go for the heavy hitters. By the time the ibuprofen gets into my bloodstream it’s too late and I end up in emergency with IV pain meds. That’s especially true if the headache wakes me up from a sound sleep, no time for warning signals then.

What’s so really weird though are the verbal auras I get. Like some of you I can’t speak properly, even though the words are there correct in my head. It comes out nothing but slurred gibberish no matter how hard I try to focus. It’s really frustrating and scary. But the strangest thing I’ve ever experienced related to verbal auras is hearing voices, though it only happens rarely. Sometimes I even hear and think little snippets and phrases in a foreign language(as if a native speaker, though I’m not fluent in any language other than English!). For some reason it’s usually what sounds like Italian or Latin. Maybe from all those years singing in foreign languages? Anyway, talk about STRANGE!!

I’m curious, has anyone else ever done that, hear and/or think in a language you don’t speak when you have a migraine?

Recently I experienced one of my migraines. About 15 minutes after the aura went away, I was reading a book in bed. Suddenly I simply lost all comprehension of the words. I read the word “pointed” repeatedly about six times. I might as well have been reading a foreign language. A similar thing happened to me once before, so I wasn’t quite so worried that I was losing it. I stopped reading and went to sleep.

I’m male, 67, and I’ve been having migraines occasionally since I was 16. They’re not nearly as severe now as they were then. Interesting, this article by David and the picture of the aura describe my symptoms very closely.


wow, that picture of the migraine aura is just so accurate. I enjoyed your post a lot.

I stumbled upon this post looking for answers to why my migraine today rendered me unable to write a coherent sentence. I, too, feared I’d had a stroke. I suffer from severe migraines (25-30% of the time!) and was put on a preventative medication last week. Today was my first migraine with an aura in 9 years and it was followed by the nonsense typing, it was COMPLETELY different from the 500+ migraines that i’ve had. Even now, 6 hours later I am having a bit of trouble. Good to know it will likely be ok….

After reading this, a bell started to ring. I have migraines too, started when I was at the age of 6. The first time i had it my small finger started to tingle. I didn’t know what to do so i thought i’d move it more. Than i started to see a small white spot in my left-eye corner. I never knew how to call it, neither what to do. The migraines are quite severe, it can take a few days for them to last. But once theyre gone it takes a good 6 months to come back.

After reading this, a bell started to ring. I have migraines too, started when I was at the age of 6. The first time i had it my small finger started to tingle. I didn’t know what to do so I thought I’d move it more. Than I started to see a small white spot in my left-eye corner. I never knew how to call it, neither what to do. When that passed I too couldn’t understand what other people said, and when I was trying to ask them what the heck they were telling me, I could only talk gibberish aswell. After all that I can only lie down in the dark. No light, no movement, no sounds. The migraines are quite severe, it can take a few days for them to last. But once theyre gone it takes a good 6 months to come back.

I had been searching to see if someone had similar symptoms to what I experienced yesterday and your article rang true. I, too, thought I was suffering from a stroke. I am relieved to learn it could be a migraine.

Last night I was teaching a class. At the beginning of class, we were playing a hangman type game. I wrote lines to represent the letters of my chosen word, then the students were trying to guess letters. After so far into the game, I realized, I was filling in the word wrong. Like, one student said “b” and I was like, yes, there’s a “b” here. In actuality, there was no b in my chosen word. Another student also said “a” and I responded, “No A,” when there really was one in the word. At one point, I looked at the board and suddenly, it was like something clicked in my brain and I realized I was doing it wrong. So I tried again, but was making the same sorts of mistakes. Imagine the confusion I caused these students!

Later that night, I was grading papers, when I suddenly had the same sort of “click” happen. I was writing the wrong points on the papers. I knew what points I was supposed to give, but wasn’t writing them correctly. Interestingly enough, in the grade book, I reported the same points I wrote on the paper (which was some random number). Though, I didn’t always record it in the right place in the gradebook. I had to go back through all the papers to record the proper grades—but I did it again! Now my gradebook is a giant mess.

Later that night, I was hit with a headache and had extreme problems focusing. I was worried I was having a stroke or something.

It was the Men In Black. They won’t let you….what was I typing?

Thank you David. I came across your post today searching for a picture of the aura to show colleagues after years of trying to explain what my aura looks like. My experience is exactly as you describe and the visual features of the auro exactly as yours, except that the periphery is blurred and the entire image wobbly.

I have been getting the aura at least a couple times a week for several years. I use Excedrin Migraine (which I keep in my bag, in my car, at home and at the office) as soon as I see the first signs of the aura. Because of this, the headache is usually tolerable but the nausea is still terrible. I don’t think you mentioned nausea - do you get nauseas?

I have always thought that the errors in typing (I spend approx 8 hours per day typing at full speed) were due to my frustration with the cobination of aura, headache and nausea. I will observe from now on.

Thanks again, David, for sharing your experience which resonates very much with mine. All the best.

I don’t have a particularly difficult time typing at the onset, but the very early aura (prior to the major holes, cracks, and rainbowy effects) often have just a tiny slip of missing information, if that makes sense. Not a cloudy fog where I can’t see, but what I can only describe as deleted data. So any problem with typing is reading what I’m putting on the screen, not with my fingers.

My first migraine was when I was 18, and driving. I don’t think the aura ever got so bad that I was actually at risk in the car (though I was a bit freaked out). What it basically amounted to was that I could not count the number of O’s in the word STOP on a stop sign. I knew how many there were, but I couldn’t recognize, couldn’t discern the letters properly. Obviously, I pulled over soon after. :)

I occasionally have an aura without the headache. Recently, accompanying a small circular aura, I experienced an inability to read, similar to what Dave describes. I looked at a book, and couldn’t make out any words. I could _see_ the words clearly but I couldn’t decipher them. Vision cleared up in 5or 10 minutes.

MRI and ultrasound to look for results of a TIA mini-stroke were negative. Apparently it was a migraine variant.

I lose the ability to read(words turn to gibberish)sometimes speaking is extremely difficult, then get an aura(generally the flashing lights), then get a migraine.

You described EXACTLY the migraine experience I had today. I found your blog after googling a few terms like “migraine, can’t write, can’t speak, can’t read”… I started getting the aura while working, and had to respond to an email but couldn’t seem to type it. Had a phone call, and couldn’t think through or process what person on other end was saying. Tried reading a few things, and it was like I was unable to read. This went on for about two hours.

I am having an aura right now. They are fascinating, and the “C” shaped zigzags are colorful, undulating, and I had memory loss one time. I didn’t even know what year it was, and I forgot all of my passwords for about 20 minutes. I won’t see a doctor. I don’t want them to go away. The memory came back as soon as the aura drifted to the top, and vanished. Once I had 2 going at the same time. Most are in summer, and daytime, although this is my second nocturnal one. It’s undulating, and swirling like a ceiling fan.I wish it played music !

Fascinating - this is the first time I have seen descriptions of anything similar to my first migraine. It was Christmas eve, and I was reading the label on a bottle of mulled wine, when I realized that I hadn’t taken in any of what I read. This is common enough, if I am distracted or thinking about something else, so I went back and read it again - still nothing. It felt as if I was reading fine, no problem with the process, but the meaning just wasn’t going in. I could gradually assimilate the meaning by spelling out each word carefully and letting it sink in slowly, and I could read out loud in a slightly halting way, but natural reading had vanished. Shortly afterwards I felt a numb tingling in the first and middle fingers of my right hand, and the right hand side of the tip of my tongue, followed an hour or so later by headache and light sensitivity.

That’s the only time I had the weird reading thing. Subsequent migraines were preceded by almost exactly what you describe - a point of “dazzle” which gradually expands and spreads with a kind of sparkling on the forward edge of the arc. I was prescribed zolmitriptan, which worked if taken during the aura, though it left me feeling slightly odd.

I only had a few migraines in total, probably about 10, and haven’t had one for years.

I would love to know if anyone has had an experience similar to mine. I will attempt to be brief. After more than 40 years of migraines, several each month, with classic symptoms: light sensitivity, vomiting, facial paralysis, and of course intense pain, the headaches have come to a screeching halt. I’m NOT complaining and am glad to no longer suffer from this incompacitating ailment but how and why they stopped is a mystery to me. I woke up early one morning and decided to check a document a friend was due to pick up from me that same day. I pulled up the document but couldn’t make sense of it. It was as though it was written in a different language. While struggling to decifer the text I suddenly noticed that something was blocking my vision in my right eye. I went to the mirror to see if there was something obstructing my sight but there was nothing that I could tell. This situation lasted for no more than 10 minutes and then I was fine. Well, better than fine as I found out that my migraines had suddenly and inexplicably ceased. I’ve not had a headache, migraine or otherwise for over 5 years now. A friend suggested, on the day of the incident, that I might have had a small stroke and suggested that I go to the emergency room. I did and they admitted me to run tests. After a brain scan the doctor told me that I had a kink in the back of my brain but it didn’t seem to have anything to do with my current complaint and he thought that what I experienced was “a change in migrane pattern”. Just what the heck is that? What happened to me? Are the headaches likely to start up again? I would be grateful for any insight. Thanks Oh, and in case it makes a difference I took Esgic Plus to relieve my headaches and it was incredibly effective within 30 minutes of taking meds.