Migraine headaches are a neurological disorder that impact the lives millions of Americans and many of the patients at our eye care center in Salem, Oregon. While a great deal of research has been done to determine the cause of migraines, we now know what happens in the brain during a migraine attack. Unfortunately, we still do not know why it happens. Because migraines often cause visual symptoms, patients frequently consult their ophthalmologists with this problem.
There are two types of migraines: The “classic” migraine and the ophthalmic migraine. In a classic migraine headache, the first symptom is a visual disturbance known as an “aura”, which usually takes the form of a pattern of bright light – often a zigzag – that blots out a part of the visual field. However, the visual disturbance can take many forms, sometimes even causing hallucinations that make objects appear much larger or smaller than they actually are. The visual symptoms typically last for between ten to twenty minutes and they are followed by a severe headache, often affecting only one side of the head. The headache is frequently accompanied by nausea and vomiting.
Although we do not know what causes blood vessels to constrict and dilate at particular times and cause migraines, we do know that migraines tend to run in families. They are often precipitated by stress or lack of sleep, and their onset has been linked to eating certain foods and other environmental factors. Migraines can first occur at any age, including childhood.
The ophthalmic migraine differs from the classic migraine only in that the visual disturbances are not accompanied or followed by a headache and nausea. Although sometimes a medical history makes the diagnosis obvious, often the symptoms of ophthalmic migraines are vague, making diagnosis difficult.
Because several serious eye problems have symptoms similar to those of an ophthalmic migraine, it is important to have your eyes examined by an ophthalmologist any time you experience an unusual visual disturbance. Once problems such as retinal detachment and a stroke to the eye have been ruled out, ophthalmic migraine can be diagnosed.
Following this diagnosis, your ophthalmologist may consult with your family physician to determine if additional tests are needed to rule out problems outside of the eyes that can cause ophthalmic migraines. Both types of migraine headaches can often be successfully treated with the medication given to patients at our eye care center in Salem, Oregon.