Visual migraine without headache?

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Has anyone ever had one of these? I admit I scared the life out of myself a couple of hours ago.

I'm a 73-year-old female in good health, active, healthy lifestyle, BMI 24, BP only borderline high and being monitored by my GP, no history whatever of classic migraine. I suffered badly from what the Brits call "common migraines" (i.e. no aura) from my teens through to my mid-60s, when I retired, but I rarely get them since retiring from paid employment, presumably due to reduced stress levels.

This afternoon, while typing an email, I suddenly became aware of a small scotoma in the centre of my field of vision. It wasn't so much a blind spot as a small fuzzy circle I could barely see through. It appeared to be the same with both eyes. Concerned, I immediately downloaded an Amsler grid. The left eye was normal, but there was a slight fading of the lines immediately to the right of the central dot when using the right eye.

After about 10 minutes it had escalated. Hard to describe but it was as if I could see a circle of black jagged lines revolving in the centre of my field of vision, completely obscuring what was behind it. It was exactly the same in both eyes. Over the next 20-30 minutes it widened but moved slowly out to the right of my visual field - again in both eyes. By this time, I could see clearly straight ahead of me but there was a complete semi-circle of black jagged lines rippling like waves, and obliterating the right side of my visual field. It continued to move out and eventually disappeared off of the edge of my visual field. I felt completely normal during this period - apart from a bit panicky! I grinned at myself several times in the mirror to make sure I had no facial weakness: none. I had absolutely no other symptoms, and still don't, two hours later.

I was all set to take myself to A&E but when it cleared up I realised there wouldn't be much point. Unfortunately my GP is on holiday for another two weeks and is being replace by a very dodgy locum. I'm lucky enough to live in a country where I could self-refer to an ophthalmologist or neurologist if need be, and where waiting times in A&E are reasonable, so I'm not too concerned as to what to do if it comes back. And I'll go and see my GP anyway when he gets back.

My question is: has anyone else had this experience?

Just as a footnote, by common migraine I mean very severe pain in head and ears (and sometimes throat) lasting up to two days, with nausea and vomiting, made worse by noise, not light, and alleviated by sitting up rather than lying down. Definitely no aura of any kind. I do realise the classification of common migraine is only accepted in English-speaking countries. In any case, I've only had two or three of these in the past 7 years since retiring.

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16 Replies

  • Posted

    Hi Lily.

    what you have decribed is my migraines.

    i don't get any notice they just come, I take paracetamol plus and they usually subside within about an hour if I'm lucky, but for the next I feel nauseous and spaced out.

    mine is usually brought on by stress.

    you need to take some form of medication straight away on the onset of one before the stomache shuts down. Cold compress on the fore head helps too. 

    They scare me because I don't known when the next one will come, because they come on so quick.

    hope this helps 

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    • Posted

      Next day that was meant to say.

      also I have never been sick, but felt it. 

      Sometimes I get tingly fingers, no headache has such but felling of pressure behind my eyes. 

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    • Posted

      Thank you Julie. Sorry to hear about your problem.

      However, I didn't get the slightest headache or nausea with this sudden visual attack - that was what worried me a bit. It was just my eyes that were affected, and for the first time in 73 years, which struck me as being a bit odd.

      The headaches and nausea were with the common migraines (no aura) I used to have when I was younger.

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    • Posted

      i am short sighted and have a high risk of detached retina.

      i have lots of what are called floaters, which on bad days are very annoying but the eye specialist said there's not a lot they can do about them.

      i just have to be aware of the tail tail signs of a detached Retina starting.

      so when I get a migraine I worry it may be the start of one. 

      You probably ought to go to the opticians to get checked out if your worried.

       

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    • Posted

      Thanks Julie. They definitely weren't floaters. I get them all the time (old age!) but my eyes get checked regularly and are fine except for advancing cataracts, which aren't ready for surgery yet. I'm hoping it was just a one-off but will check with my GP when he gets back from his holiday next month.

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    • Posted

      I'm 57 and have cataract, I can have mind done, but I suffer from health anxiety so I'm in no rush to get them sorted yet.

      hope you don't get another episode 

      good health to you 

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    • Posted

      I had that exact thing happen one time. I thought it was some sort of light sensitivity as it happened once when I was in a bathroom and looked up a bit toward the light. Happened maybe one other time but not since. I take amitripyline. Supposed to help w migraines I now get (did not get a headache w that odd visual light thing). I still get migraines though. Have been off balance for three years..,,was told I have mal de debarquement. Which can be related somehow to migraines. I do not think that though is related to the weird visual sensation I had. Have wondered if my dizziness is more of a vestibular migraine or MAV. Anyways I wouldn't worry too much but if it keeps happening maybe try amitriptyline as I don't believe I've had one since taking that med.

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    • Posted

      Thanks. I've calmed down a bit since yesterday. I'll check it out with my GP when he gets back from his holidays at the end of this month, but I now think it's just late-onset visual migraines. I've done a bit more research since yesterday. From this, I gather that it's not all that rare for visual migraines to start late in life, and elderly people are less likely to go on to get headaches.

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  • Posted

    Hi, Lily. 

    I just went to a neuro-opthamologist for visual disturbances also. I have a history of migraine and my optomotrist suggested these could be migraine without headache. After extensive testing of my eyes, they could find nothing wrong, thankfully. They said they do not understand what causes these visual episodes. I would say mine are related to increased stress levels and activity. I am 58. I usually take 2 ginger capsules and they go away in about 20 - 30 minutes. At first, I was scared but I've had several of them in the past year and no long lasting effects. Hope this helps. You are very lucky you haven't had them before this. 

    Take care and keep us posted. 

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  • Posted

    Hi Lily, 

    I know exactly what you are talking about as I have had this for years, especially black jagged lines rippling like waves, I hate them as they make my peripheral vision impossible. I was told by a neurologist that they are classed as Silent migraines, no headache or pain of any kind just visual disturbance and when it stops everything is back to normal. I also get coloured mega pixels at the outer edges of my eyes sometimes but it is part of the migraine. I hope all goes well for you when you visit your doctor.

    hope this is of soome help to you 

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    • Posted

      Thank you Dee - and all the other posters in here. I've calmed down a bit now! My main concern was that although I had frequent severe headaches when I was younger, I'd never once had the aura of classic migraine.

      Once the episode was over I googled late-onset aura and learned that though migraine auras normally start before the age of 40, it's not rare for them to occur for the first time late in life. A couple of sites said that this could be an indicator of a raised risk of TIA, but most said it was unproven. Interestingly, practically all the sites said that classic migraines starting after the age of 60 were far more likely to be acephalgic - without headache. That's a relief anyway! I'd hate to go back to the blinding headaches of my youth.

      The incident happened 10 days ago, and I've had no repetition - or indeed any other symptoms - since then. On the basis of what I've read, and as long as my symptoms don't worsen, I'll probably wait till the next time I have to see my GP about something else. I have to see him for my routine six-monthly check-up in early December anyway.

      Thank you once again.

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    • Posted

      Hi Lily,

      Glad you are feeling well. Some sites do indeed say there is a link between migraine and TIA`s. I had my first TIA about 10yrs ago at the age of 40 and it was put down to the silent migraines plus genetically high cholesterol . So I made sure that I was aware of any unusual feelings and sensations in my body after that.I was just unlucky I guess but it is always safer to check when you feel out of sorts. I was getting the silent migraines on a regular basis, at least three a week so they were eventually going to take their toll on the brain. May you continue to stay well and hopefully it was just a once off occurance. Take care of yourself. 

      All the best.

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    • Posted

      So sorry to hear that Dee. 40 is young for a TIA. I have overall high cholesterol but in this country (unlike the UK as I understand it) they break it out into HDL and LDL - the "good and bad guys". They use this to calculate the atherogenic index, and apparently mine is extremely good for a woman of any age, let alone 73, because my HDL is very high. I still might pay an extra visit to my GP in the next couple of months though, just to run it past him.

      You stay well too!

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  • Posted

    Hi Lily, just seen your discussion. Your migraine is the only kind I've ever had, no headache but feel awful for 3 days. Aura starts as a shimmering dot then expands to a horseshoe either curving left or right. Yes you can see it with both eyes and I know from experience it can come into your dreams and wake you. My Mum had classic migraine, my eldest sister migraine headache but no aura. I find my triggers are stress, hormone imbalance and getting a frozen shoulder last year didn't help! I also had my cholesterol checked ( quite high) so have been taking benecol ever since as I 'd started worrying about risk of TIA's. I suspect our type of migraine isn't as rare as we think, because there's no headache people probably don't even recognise it as migraine. Anne X

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    • Posted

      Thanks for your input Anne. The episode happened exactly a month ago, and I haven't so far had a repeat. In any case, I've calmed down now, having read up extensively on the subject since then. I'm due to see my GP for a routine check-up in four months' time so I'll mention it to him then. What scared me was that the central dot wasn't shimmering for the first 5-10 mins, it was just a completely opaque, rapidly growing grey circle, obliterating more and more of my visual field in both eyes. It was only when it started scintillating and the jagged lines appeared in it that I realised what it must be. I didn't get any symptoms at all afterwards - apart from feeling shaky for an hour or so because of the scare I'd had!

      I used to get terrible headaches during my working life. No aura, but unbearable pain in my head and ears, nausea and vomiting. Sometimes the pain in my ears would extend into my throat, even to the point of stopping me from swallowing my own saliva. No sensitivity to light as per classic migraine, but I couldn't bear any kind of noise, and sound would become distorted, seeming to reverberate in my head. Sometimes I'd be off work for two days at a time with them. I believe this is known as "common" (vs. classic) migraine in the English-speaking world, but this classification isn't accepted in my country so I could never get prescription pain relief, or any investigation of the possible cause.

      I did a variety of different jobs in my 50-year career, but had these common migraines throughout. They miraculously disappeared when I gave up paid employment seven years ago - there's a message in there somewhere!

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    • Posted

      Hi again Lily, not sure if this helps but I do get other visual disturbances apart from the zigzag scintillating scotoma,  these include blind spots which are mid grey in colour with a shimmering edge, also have had double vision and dizziness. Your grey circle sounds like my blind spots to me.

      So sorry to hear how bad you're headaches were, must have been awful. My eldest sister also has common migraines, better since she started taking magnesium, with severe headache and out of control vomiting where she's had to get a doctor out to give her an injection to stop it. My Mum had headache, vomiting and aura so she had to stay in a darkened room for 3 days. Seems her migraines got split between me and my sister in some weird genetic fashion. 

      I agree with you that work is designed to do your head in!  Anne X

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