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bizarre phenomenon: optical migraine or visual migraine

Posted May 06 2010 12:00am

About a week or so ago I had a brief but very strange phenomenon with my vision. I had forgotten about it until it happened again. This time it lasted, I think, about fifteen minutes. When it happened, at first, I wondered how I had not noticed it before and wondered whether it had been there all the time and I was just noticing it.

As I finished some chores, I sat down at the table with my laptop. That’s when it became very apparent. In an arc wrapping around the left edge of my field of vision I could see prisms of flickering colored lights. It looked like the lights and colors were moving randomly so that it was impossible to focus on any part of the vision. Smaller at first, it seemed to lengthen to an arc extending from about a clock’s 11-o’clock to 6-o’clock positions. It made me feel a bit dizzy. The first time it happened, I don’t think I paid it much attention because it went away quickly; in fact, I remember wondering whether it happened at all and figured it was something in my eye.

When it happened again, I could focus on the fact that it was not my imagination. I couldn’t detect anything in or near my eye that would cause this to happen. I closed my eyes separately and noted I could see it regardless as well as with both eyes closed. It was at this point that I started to feel a little alarmed, though I kept telling myself it was some odd harmless phenomenon that would go away soon enough or was maybe some kind of reaction to one of my cancer drugs. I went online to see what I could find, and just about then Marvin asked me if I was ready to go do an errand. He asked me what was going on, and I told him. He suggested I call my oncologist, but I said I didn’t think I should bother unless it continued and seemed like a problem–even though it was definitely disturbing. So he called.

As usual, Toni called me back quickly. When I told her what had happened, she knew immediately what it was. Yeah, that’s why she is so terrific–she’s like a walking encyclopedia of medical knowledge. It’s commonly referred to as visual or ocular or optical or ophthalmic migraine. This phenomenon comes solo: without the typical sickening pain of a migraine headache, which I have had since I was a teenager until I started chemo in 2004 and went into auto menopause. Some articles note that people who experience optical migraines also tend to experience migraines with classic optical symptoms (flashes of light, light sensitivity, peripheral blind spots) that precede a classical migraine. Most of the migraines I have had fell into that category.

The cause of an ophthalmic migraine is, however, the same as for a migraine headache: a spasm in the blood vessels in the head. I have read that the spasms are in either the blood vessels behind the eye or the area of the brain that controls vision. It is not clear to me, yet, whether one or the other explanation is incorrect or both are correct. I will write an update when I find out.

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© 2004-2010 Donna Peach. All rights reserved.

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