Narrative review of neuroimaging in migraine with aura

Karissa N. Arca, Juliana H. VanderPluym, Rashmi B. Halker Singh

Research output: Contribution to journalReview articlepeer-review


Objective: To improve the understanding of the role and utility of various neuroimaging modalities (clinical and research) for the evaluation of migraine aura (MA) and hemiplegic migraine during the ictal and interictal phases. Background: MA is defined by reversible neurologic symptoms and is considered a manifestation of a primary condition. As such, most patients with MA do not require imaging. However, if there are atypical features, change in symptom pattern, or it is a first-time presentation, neuroimaging may be used to evaluate for secondary conditions. Neuroimaging includes many modalities, and it is important to consider what information is being captured by these modalities (i.e., structural vs. functional). Imaging abnormalities may be noted both during (ictal) and between (interictal) MA attacks, and it is important for clinicians to be familiar with neuroimaging findings reported in migraine with aura (MWA) compared with other conditions. Methods: With the assistance of a medical librarian, we performed a review of the literature pertaining to MWA and neuroimaging in PubMed. Search terms included were magnetic resonance imaging, positron-emission tomography, single photon-emission computed tomography, functional magnetic resonance imaging, and migraine with aura. We hand-searched these references to inform our subsequent literature review. Results: Acute MA can be associated with several unique neuroimaging findings—reversible cortical diffusion restriction, cortical venous engorgement, and a “biphasic” transition from hypoperfusion to hyperperfusion. Imaging findings during MA tend to span more than one vascular territory. Between acute attacks, neuroimaging in people with MWA can resemble migraine without aura in terms of white matter abnormalities and “infarct-like lesions.” Research imaging modalities such as volumetric analysis and functional imaging have demonstrated unique findings in migraine with aura. Conclusion: Although migraine is a clinical diagnosis, understanding of neuroimaging findings in MWA can help clinicians interpret imaging findings and improve patient care.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)1324-1333
Number of pages10
Issue number9
StatePublished - Oct 2021


  • aura
  • hemiplegic migraine
  • imaging
  • magnetic resonance imaging
  • migraine

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Neurology
  • Clinical Neurology


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