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What Causes Kaleidoscope Vision

If you have a kaleidoscopic vision, it appears like you are looking into a kaleidoscope. Images that appear in your field of view appear to be broken and can also be shiny or brightly colored. Kaleidoscopic vision is usually caused by a type of migraine attack known as ocular or visual migraine. An ocular migraine happens when the nerve cells in a specific part of the brain responsible for sight begins to fire erratically.

Kaleidoscopic vision can also be a symptom of more severe health conditions such as serious brain injury, retinal damage, and stroke. Read on to find out the various causes of kaleidoscope vision.

What Causes Kaleidoscope Vision

What is Kaleidoscope Vision?

Kaleidoscope vision is a type of visual problem that is commonly caused by an ocular or visual migraine.(1) If you have a kaleidoscopic vision, images that appear in your field of vision seem to be broken up into several pieces and can be shiny or brightly colored.(2) Kaleidoscope vision is usually short-lived, and it tends to pass within 10 to 30 minutes. While an ocular or visual migraine is the most common cause of kaleidoscopic vision, there can be more serious underlying health conditions that might cause a kaleidoscope vision.(3) These include a stroke, serious brain injury, damage to the retina, and others.(4,5)

It is essential to know that a visual or ocular migraine is not the same as a retinal migraine.(6) A retinal migraine is a more serious condition that is typically caused by a lack of blood flow to the eye. In most cases, a retinal migraine is usually misdiagnosed as a visual migraine or vice versa.(7,8)

What Causes Kaleidoscope Vision

Visual or Ocular Migraine

People who suffer from regular migraine headaches are well aware of the different symptoms that accompany a migraine attack. In many people, migraine episodes are also accompanied by visual symptoms. These types of migraines are known as ocular or visual migraines.(9) One of the most common causes of kaleidoscopic vision is an ocular or visual migraine, and the American Migraine Foundation estimates that nearly 25 to 30 percent of people who experience migraines have a visual aura or visual symptoms.(10) It is estimated that around one in six adults in the US alone suffers from migraines and severe headaches on a regular basis.(11) Furthermore, 20% of people with migraines also experience aura that accompanies a migraine attack.(12)

An ocular migraine usually happens when the nerve endings present in the back part of the brain become activated. This back portion of the brain is known as the visual cortex. The exact reason behind this is unknown, and it is possible to see this activation in an MRI scan as it spreads over the visual cortex of the brain during the migraine episode.

Current research points to the fact that ocular migraines may also occur because of specific structural abnormalities in the brain’s visual cortex. A study carried out in 2015 looked at the MRI data of participants who regularly experienced a one-sided ocular migraine. The research team found that the affected and unaffected parts of the brain displayed noticeable differences in the thickness of certain parts of the cortex.(13)

According to the authors of this study, this structural difference in the brain is what makes the visual cortex on the affected side of the brain dramatically more sensitive to any kind of neuronal activity.

The symptoms of a visual migraine tend to pass within half an hour. While you may experience a visual aura, it is not necessary that you will get a headache at the same time. When you experience an ocular migraine without a telltale headache, it is known as an acephalgic migraine.(14)

Stroke or Transient Ischemic Attack

A stroke happens when something blocks or disrupts the blood supply to your brain. Some of the common causes of stroke include:(15)

  • Fatty deposits or plaque
  • Blood clots
  • Ruptured or damaged blood vessels

A transient ischemic attack (TIA) is a mini-stroke which is caused by a temporary blockage. A transient ischemic attack usually lasts only for a few minutes, and the symptoms will also disappear within the next hour.(16) However, sometimes they can also last up to 24 hours.(17) Even though the symptoms pass quickly, a transient ischemic attack is still a serious medical condition and needs medical assistance.

A transient ischemic attack does increase the likelihood of having a stroke in the future, so it is necessary that you let your doctors know if you experience any of the following symptoms associated with a transient ischemic attack:

Many times a transient ischemic attack can produce symptoms that are similar to those of an ocular migraine, especially kaleidoscopic vision. This is why if you believe you are experiencing a visual migraine, it is essential to confirm that it is not a transient ischemic attack.

One of the key differences here is that in migraines, the symptoms tend to happen in a particular sequence – you will experience the visual symptoms first, then the effects to your body and other senses. In comparison, in a transient ischemic attack, you are likely to experience all these symptoms at once.(18)

If a stroke is suspected, then call the emergency medical assistance number of your city or visit the hospital immediately.

Retinal Migraine

A retinal migraine is often confused as being the same as a visual or ocular migraine. However, a retinal migraine is a more severe health condition as compared to a visual migraine. A retinal migraine is caused by a lack of blood flow to the eye and typically involves either a blind spot or a complete loss of vision in only one eye. In some cases, though, it is possible for people to experience many of the same visual disturbances or symptoms accompanying a migraine aura, including kaleidoscopic vision.(19)


Kaleidoscope vision and other visual disturbances can also be produced by taking hallucinogenic agents. For example, mescaline and lysergic acid diethylamide (LSD) are the two most common hallucinogens that can cause you to see very bright, colored images that may undergo sudden kaleidoscopic changes.(20)

Multiple Sclerosis

It has been noticed that people with multiple sclerosis (MS) tend to have more migraines. A study of several multiple sclerosis patients found that the patients experienced migraines at nearly three times the rate of the general population.(21)

However, the actual connection between migraine the multiple sclerosis is not entirely understood. If you are experiencing kaleidoscopic vision and already have multiple sclerosis, then it is possible that your kaleidoscope vision is a result of an ocular migraine. However, the possibilities of a stroke or a retinal migraine also need to be considered and checked into.


Kaleidoscopic vision is most commonly caused by a visual or ocular migraine. These symptoms tend to pass within half an hour on their own, and it might be that you do not experience any headache afterward. However, having a kaleidoscopic vision can also be a sign of a more serious health condition, such as a severe brain injury or an impending stroke. This is why it is essential to see an ophthalmologist (eye specialist) if you experience kaleidoscopic vision.


  1. Winslow, H., Mickey, B. and Frohman, E.M., 2006. Sympathomimetic-induced kaleidoscopic visual illusion associated with a reversible splenium lesion. Archives of neurology, 63(1), pp.135-137.
  2. Vbmed.com.au. 2020. Medical News Today: What Is Kaleidoscope Vision? – Vincentia Bay. [online] Available at: <https://vbmed.com.au/2019/07/12/medical-news-today-what-is-kaleidoscope-vision/> [Accessed 30 May 2020].
  3. Tikka-Kleemola, P., Artto, V., Vepsäläinen, S., Sobel, E.M., Räty, S., Kaunisto, M.A., Anttila, V., Hämäläinen, E., Sumelahti, M.L., Ilmavirta, M. and Färkkilä, M., 2010. A visual migraine aura locus maps to 9q21-q22. Neurology, 74(15), pp.1171-1177.
  4. Americanmigrainefoundation.org. 2020. [online] Available at: <https://americanmigrainefoundation.org/resource-library/visual-disturbances-related-to-migraine-or-not/> [Accessed 30 May 2020].
  5. Wijman, C.A., Wolf, P.A., Kase, C.S., Kelly-Hayes, M. and Beiser, A.S., 1998. Migrainous visual accompaniments are not rare in late life: the Framingham Study. Stroke, 29(8), pp.1539-1543.
  6. Grosberg, B.M., Solomon, S. and Lipton, R.B., 2005. Retinal migraine. Current pain and headache reports, 9(4), pp.268-271.
  7. Hill, D.L., Daroff, R.B., Ducros, A., Newman, N.J. and Biousse, V., 2007. Most cases labeled as “retinal migraine” are not migraine. Journal of Neuro-ophthalmology, 27(1), pp.3-8.
  8. Grosberg, B.M., Solomon, S., Friedman, D.I. and Lipton, R.B., 2006. Retinal migraine reappraised. Cephalalgia, 26(11), pp.1275-1286.
  9. Hupp, S.L., Kline, L.B. and Corbett, J.J., 1989. Visual disturbances of migraine. Survey of ophthalmology, 33(4), pp.221-236.
  10. Americanmigrainefoundation.org. 2020. [online] Available at: <https://americanmigrainefoundation.org/resource-library/visual-disturbances-related-to-migraine-or-not/> [Accessed 30 May 2020].
  11. Burch, R., Rizzoli, P. and Loder, E., 2018. The prevalence and impact of migraine and severe headache in the United States: figures and trends from government health studies. Headache: The Journal of Head and Face Pain, 58(4), pp.496-505.
  12. Aura, 2., 2020. Aura – National Headache Foundation. [online] National Headache Foundation. Available at: <https://headaches.org/2007/10/25/aura/> [Accessed 30 May 2020].
  13. Hougaard, A., 2015. Investigations of functional and structural changes in migraine with aura by magnetic resonance imaging. Dan Med J, 62(8), p.B5129.
  14. Kunkel, R.S., 1986. Acephalgic migraine. Headache: The Journal of Head and Face Pain, 26(4), pp.198-201.
  15. nhs.uk. 2020. Stroke – Causes. [online] Available at: <https://www.nhs.uk/conditions/stroke/causes/> [Accessed 30 May 2020].
  16. Johnston, S.C., 2002. Transient ischemic attack. New England Journal of Medicine, 347(21), pp.1687-1692.
  17. Albers, G.W., Caplan, L.R., Easton, J.D., Fayad, P.B., Mohr, J.P., Saver, J.L. and Sherman, D.G., 2002. Transient ischemic attack—proposal for a new definition.
  18. Nadarajan, V., Perry, R.J., Johnson, J. and Werring, D.J., 2014. Transient ischaemic attacks: mimics and chameleons. Practical neurology, 14(1), pp.23-31.
  19. Grosberg, B.M., Solomon, S. and Lipton, R.B., 2005. Retinal migraine. Current pain and headache reports, 9(4), pp.268-271.
  20. Ffytche, D.H. and Howard, R.J., 1999. The perceptual consequences of visual loss:positive’pathologies of vision. Brain, 122(7), pp.1247-1260.
  21. Kister, I., Caminero, A.B., Monteith, T.S., Soliman, A., Bacon, T.E., Bacon, J.H., Kalina, J.T., Inglese, M., Herbert, J. and Lipton, R.B., 2010.
  22. Migraine is comorbid with multiple sclerosis and associated with a more symptomatic MS course. The journal of headache and pain, 11(5), p.417.
Pramod Kerkar, M.D., FFARCSI, DA
Pramod Kerkar, M.D., FFARCSI, DA
Written, Edited or Reviewed By: Pramod Kerkar, M.D., FFARCSI, DA Pain Assist Inc. This article does not provide medical advice. See disclaimer
Last Modified On:March 21, 2022

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