Approximately 25-30% of migraine sufferers experience migraine with aura. This means that before the headache phase of their migraine attack they are subject to around 30 to 60 minutes of symptoms such as seeing stars, blurry vision, odd tingling in parts of the body. The exact symptoms experienced will vary from sufferer to sufferer, after all, no one person’s migraines are exactly like someone else’s. However, there is also a rare subtype of migraine with aura which some sufferers, around 10%, might go on to suffer from.
Migraine with brainstem aura has, in the past, also been known basilar-type migraine, basilar migraine, and basilar artery migraine. This type of migraine is different from other types of migraine aura in that it’s symptoms are severe neurological symptoms. Some of these include; slurring of speech (dysarthria), vertigo, ringing in the ears (tinnitus), double vision (diplopia), unsteadiness as if drunk (ataxia), decreased level of consciousness (syncope), and numbness or pins and needles in the arms and/or legs. Sometimes migraine with brainstem aura is confused with another type of migraine with aura – hemiplegic migraine. The main difference between the two being that hemiplegic migraine sufferers experience weakness in addition to these symptoms; typically in the arms, legs and/or face. These aforementioned symptoms can make migraine with brainstem aura one of the most frightening forms of migraine to suffer from because you lose control of many of your normal bodily functions and you can see no reason for it and no way to stop it from happening. However, the symptoms don’t last forever (usually the headache phase of the migraine will come within 60 minutes of the onset of the aura) and they’re more frightening than harmful.
A study in Denmark has discovered that migraine with brainstem aura is present in around 10% of sufferers who suffer from typical visual aura, and in most sufferers the first migraines with brainstem aura occurred between late adolescence and their early 20s. Migraine with brainstem aura first appearing in sufferers after the age of 50 is unusual. If a migraine with brainstem aura occurs for the first time after the age of 50 medical advice should definitely be sought right away.
Having said that, migraine auras, especially hemiplegic and migraine with brainstem aura, should be treated with great care at all times, as many of the symptoms are the same as those of other serious conditions such as seizure disorders and stroke. An imaging study such as a CT scan or MRI should be conducted in order to rule these out, and if you aren’t sure whether what is happening is a migraine aura or something like a stroke, remember, it’s always better to be safe than sorry and to seek medical advice right away.