21 February 2011

Serene Branson's migraine mimicked a stroke

Many people who watched Los Angeles TV reporter Serene Branson suffer what appeared to be a stroke was just a severe migraine headach. Watch the video here.


Many people who watched US TV reporter Serene Branson suffer what appeared to be a stroke while covering the Grammy awards last Sunday were no doubt relieved to hear her troubles were apparently caused by a severe migraine headache.

Watch the video here:


Doctors at the University of California, Los Angeles, who performed a brain scan and blood work on Branson, said she suffered a type of migraine - often called a complex or complicated migraine - that can mimic symptoms of a stroke, the Associated Press reported.

Dr Ralph L. Sacco, president of the American Heart Association and chairman of neurology at the University of Miami Miller School of Medicine, explained that "a complicated migraine can often masquerade as a stroke or TIA (transient ischemic attack, sometimes called a mini-stroke)."

The symptoms can look just like a stroke, Sacco said, including loss of vision, blurry vision, paralysis on one side of the body, trouble speaking and trouble walking. "All kinds of things we associate with a TIA or stroke can be part of a complicated migraine," he said.

Assume it's a stroke

For people whose first experience with a migraine is a complex migraine, Sacco advises that they assume it is a stroke, however.

"If people have these classic symptoms, we should treat them as the emergency we think they are, which is a possible stroke," he said.

Stroke patients should be taken immediately to a hospital where a potentially life-saving, clot-busting drug known as tissue plasminogen activator (tPA) can be administered.

According to Sacco, a complex or complicated migraine is caused by an electrical malfunction in the brain, which may be triggered by certain chemicals that produce the symptoms. Stroke, however, is caused by restricted blood flow to the brain, he noted.

"A migraine is not just a headache. It's a complicated brain event," UCLA neurologist Dr Andrew Charles, who examined Branson, told the AP.

Migraines and trouble talking

Branson felt numbness on the right side of her face that affected her speech, Charles told the news service. "She was actually having the headache while she was having these other symptoms," he said.

Branson said that, while waiting to go on air, she noticed that the words on her notes were blurry and her "thoughts were not forming the way they normally do," the AP reported.

"As soon as I opened my mouth I knew something was wrong," she said. "I was having trouble remembering the word for Grammy. I knew what I wanted to say, but I didn't have the words to say it."

Another migraine expert, Dr Timothy Smith, who runs a headache clinic in St. Louis, noted that "complicated migraines are not very common."

The big difference between a stroke and a complicated migraine is that the effects of the migraine are completely reversible, he said.

"Symptoms can last a few minutes for close to an hour," Smith said. "If it goes on longer than an hour, that's the sign of a more complex problem," he added.

After symptoms of a complicated migraine disappear, the patient is left with the headache, Smith said.

(Copyright © 2010 HealthDay. All rights reserved.)


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Dr Elliot Shevel is a South African migraine surgery pioneer and the founder and medical director of The Headache Clinic in Johannesburg, Durban and Cape Town, South Africa. The Headache Clinic is a multidisciplinary practice dedicated to the diagnosis and treatment of Primary Headaches and Migraines. Dr Shevel is also the main author of all scientific publications generated by his team. He recently won a high level science debate in which he was able to prove that the current migraine diagnosis and classification is not based on data. Tertiary Education - Dr Shevel holds both Dental and Medical degrees, and practises as a specialist Maxillo-facial and Oral Surgeon. Follow the Headache Clinic on Twitter@HeadacheClinic.

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