Episodic Migraine With and Without Aura: Key Differences and Implications for Pathophysiology, Management, and Assessing Risks

  • Angeliki Vgontzas
  • Rebecca BurchEmail author
Episodic Migraine (S Nahas, Section Editor)
Part of the following topical collections:
  1. Topical Collection on Episodic Migraine


Purpose of Review

To review the pathophysiologic, epidemiologic, and clinical evidence for similarities and differences between migraine with and without aura.

Recent Findings

The ICHD-3 has recently refined the diagnostic criteria for aura to include positive symptomatology, which better differentiates aura from TIA. Although substantial evidence supports cortical spreading depression as the cause of visual aura, the role (if any) of CSD in headache pain is not well understood. Recent imaging evidence suggests a possible hypothalamic origin for a headache attack, but further research is needed. Migraine with aura is associated with a modest increase in the risk of ischemic stroke. The etiology for this association remains unclear. There is a paucity of evidence regarding treatments specifically aimed at the migraine with aura subtype, or whether migraine with vs without aura responds to treatment differently. Migraine with typical aura is therefore often treated similarly to migraine without aura. Lamotrigine, daily aspirin, and flunarizine have evidence for efficacy in prevention of migraine with aura, and magnesium, ketamine, furosemide, and single-pulse transcranial magnetic stimulation have evidence for use as acute treatments. Although triptans have traditionally been contraindicated in hemiplegic migraine and migraine with brainstem aura, this prohibition is being reconsidered in the face of evidence suggesting that use may be safe.


The debate as to whether migraine with and without aura are different entities is ongoing. In an era of sophisticated imaging, genetic advancement, and ongoing clinical trials, efforts to answer this question are likely to yield important and clinically meaningful results.


Migraine Migraine with aura Migraine pathophysiology Hemiplegic migraine Brainstem aura Aura treatment Cardiovascular risk 


Compliance with Ethical Standards

Conflict of Interest

Angeliki Vgontzas and Rebecca Burch declare no conflict of interest.

Human and Animal Rights and Informed Consent

This article does not contain any studies with human or animal subjects performed by any of the authors.


Papers of particular interest, published recently, have been highlighted as: • Of importance •• Of major importance

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© Springer Science+Business Media, LLC, part of Springer Nature 2018

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Graham Headache Center, Brigham and Women’s HospitalHarvard Medical SchoolBostonUSA

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