What is Retinal Migraine?

What exactly is retinal migraine? Do I have it, or could it be another disease?
What is Retinal Migraine
Over the past year, our article from 2009 about retinal migraine (5 Signs You have Retinal Migraine) has become the most popular article at Headache and Migraine News. But almost six years later, it’s time to revisit the discussion.

There is a lot of confusion over just what retinal migraine is, and that confusion is making it difficult to find proper treatment.

First, retinal migraine is a type of migraine with aura. There are various different types of migraine with aura, and different treatments are commonly used depending on which type you have.

There are various types of “aura”, some visual but some involving muscle weakness or difficulty speaking, for example. Retinal migraine used to be in a category by itself, but it is now categorized along with other aura types. In fact, more specifically, it is considered migraine with typical aura.

Symptoms of Retinal Migraine

Retinal migraine symptoms must be temporary, must involve vision, must be in one eye, must be repeated, and must NOT be associated with a disorder other than migraine.

Visual symptoms will vary. You might have an area of vision blocked out, or you may go blind in one eye. Or, there may be visual patterns and flashes.

Typically, the aura spreads gradually over a few minutes, and lasts an hour or less. Usually (but not necessarily) the aura will be followed by a headache.

The important thing to remember here is that retinal migraine is still something pretty specific. If your symptoms are in both eyes, for example, you do not have retinal migraine.

Important: It May Not Be Migraine

It is absolutely critical to have a doctor examine you if you think you may have retinal migraine. There could be other causes of these symptoms.

For example, loss of vision in one eye could be a sign of a stroke. It could be a sign of carotid artery disease, in which arteries supplying blood to the brain are blocked. Needless to say, this could be very serious.

Aura symptoms could also be a sign of traumatic brain injury. A brain tumour may also lead to similar symptoms.

Some people still think of “retinal migraine” as a common, benign disorder. But a careful examination and proper treatment (whether it’s retinal migraine or not) is critical.

The diagnostic criteria above is based on The International Classification of Headache Disorders, 3rd edition (beta version) (pdf)

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3 comments… add one
  • Lydia Oct 13, 2015

    It was helpful to read about the MS and pain in the eyes. Thank you. I also take Copaxone for my MS. I was seen by an Eye Doctor and he told me “I have “uviitis” inflamtion in my eyes.

  • Deborah Walsh Apr 4, 2016

    The description of this article is exactly the same as what I am experiencing , and I have been referred to my local eye hospital who have just been guessing at my prognosis over the last 12 mths .
    However since returning to my local gp I was seen by a locum and have now been made an appointment for a c t scan which I hope will reveal the true diagnosis .

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