Retinal Migraine: Symptoms, Causes and Treatments

January 26, 2024
August 25, 2022
Retinal Migraine: Symptoms, Causes and Treatments

“Retinal migraine”, also referred to as "ocular migraine", is a rare type of migraine that can cause visual symptoms in a single eye.

Symptoms of Retinal Migraine

It is characterized by repeated attacks of monocular visual disturbance lasting from five minutes to one hour. A headache can sometimes occur along with or after the retinal migraine visual aura as well. The visual aura can include scintillations (where sparkling or flashing lights are seen) and scotoma (a "blind spot" that causes partial vision loss) or even temporary blindness.

If you think you may be experiencing retinal migraine, your doctor will need to rule out other causes and primary headache conditions. It is important that patients also be seen by an ophthalmologist for a visual exam to rule out other eye diseases that can cause these visual symptoms. Family and personal medical history will be reviewed as part of your evaluation.

It is important that you seek urgent medical attention if experiencing sudden visual changes, so that stroke can be ruled out as a potential cause.

Causes of Retinal Migraine

The exact cause of retinal migraine remains unclear. However, there is some evidence that narrowing of blood vessels to the eye can play a role during these episodes.

In addition, we do see similar triggers shared with those who experience migraine with aura - which may include low blood sugar, dehydration, high blood pressure, stress and more.

Those who have a family history or who also are diagnosed with atherosclerosis, sickle cell anemia, and lupus may also be at a higher risk of developing retinal migraine.

Retinal Migraine vs. Migraine With Aura

Often, retinal migraine may be used interchangeably to reference other migraine subtypes that involve visual disturbances. Migraine aura is most commonly experienced as visual although can also involve a motor, sensory, or language disturbance that can precede or accompany the headache pain.

Retinal migraine is different in that it involves repeated episodes of visual disturbances affecting one eye. However, migraine with aura involves visual symptoms present in both eyes.

Treatments for Retinal Migraine

Preventive treatment such as blood pressure agents, anti-seizure medications, and antidepressants are found to be effective. If episodes are infrequent, non-steroidal anti-inflammatory medications (NSAIDs) are often prescribed for pain relief. Triptans and ergotamines are not used for retinal migraines, since they can prolong episodes of visual symptoms.

Be sure to speak with a neurologist about your symptoms if you think you may be experiencing retinal migraine or migraine with aura. If you don't have a neurologist specializing in migraine already, you can schedule a video appointment with one of Neura Health's neurologists right away. Join us today!

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Jasmine Bhasin, PA-C
Jasmine Bhasin is a Physician Assistant specializing in headache medicine, based in the San Francisco Bay Area.
About the Author
Jasmine Bhasin is a Physician Assistant specializing in headache medicine, based in the San Francisco Bay Area. Prior to joining Neura Health, she worked in the Department of Neurology at UW (University of Wisconsin) Health where she specialized in migraine and headache disorders. Jasmine began her career in family practice and aesthetics where she adopted an interest in alternative medicine. She continues to focus patient care based on preventative medicine with a holistic approach, where treatment plans are incorporated with non-pharmacologic management such as lifestyle changes, alternative medicine, physical therapy, and supplements. She also performs botox injections, supraorbital nerve blocks, occipital nerve blocks, and trigger point injections. Jasmine completed her undergraduate degree in Human Development at UC San Diego. She went on to receive her Master of Science in Physician Assistant studies from Western University.

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