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Serene Branson Migraine: Your Questions Answered

Neurologist Richard B. Lipton, MD, answers questions about CBS reporter’s atypical migraine.
WebMD Health News
Reviewed by Laura J. Martin, MD

Television reporter Serene Branson’s on-air stroke scare following the Grammy Awards turned out not to be a stroke at all. Instead, a migraine was to blame for her slurred speech during the live report.

Footage of that report spread quickly on the Internet, and, for our readers, it raised many questions about migraines: what they are, what causes them, what happens when they occur.

Most migraines do not cause symptoms like what Branson experienced. That makes her migraine "atypical," meaning it was an unusual migraine.

Richard B. Lipton, MD, professor of neurology at the Albert Einstein School of Medicine and director of the Montefiore Headache Center, responds by email to WebMD readers' questions. Lipton did not treat Branson.

What kind of migraine did Serene Branson have?

"She had migraine with aura, specifically migraine with aphasic aura," Lipton says. "Aphasia" means difficulty speaking (which Branson had), reading, or understanding language.

"The term 'complicated migraine' is an older term that is used to refer to auras that are either long-lasting or nonvisual," Lipton says.

Are there warning signs before you have a migraine?

"Of the 35 million Americans with migraine (18% of women and 6% of men have it), about 60% have premonitory features or prodromes. These are changes in mood or behavior that precede headache onset by hours," Lipton says.

"Common prodromes include irritability, sad mood, food cravings, difficulty sleeping, thirst, and hunger. Auras are also a kind of warning. Auras occur in 20% of migraine sufferers and consistent of neurologic symptoms preceding pain onset by 5 to 60 minutes, typically."

Is there lasting damage from this type of migraine?

"Aura is usually fully reversible," Lipton says. "On the rarest of occasions the aura may never go away, leading to brain damage."

What should you do if you see someone experiencing these kinds of symptoms? Should you assume it’s a stroke and get them to the hospital?

"For the first episode of weakness or language difficulty, going to the hospital is the right thing to do," Lipton says. "For typical aura or recurrent episodes, medical attention is not necessary.”

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