Monday, February 21, 2011

The reality of Serene Branson and her Complex Migraine

The video of a young reporter speaking jibberish has gone viral.  I was ashamed when I saw social media comments that were hurtful, mean and just plain heartless.  Thankfully, most of those commenting on Serene Branson's inability to speak were those of concern for her health.

Was it a stroke?

Was it a seizure?

Was it a government conspiracy?  (Oy vey)

What happened to the pretty blonde reporter who was rendered incapable of forming words while on camera?

Ms Branson recently announced that her on-camera incident was not a stroke as many had guessed.  It was in fact a severe type of Migraine aura that her doctor called a Complex Migraine.

You won't find a diagnosis for Complex Migraine, but it essentially means a Migraine with stroke-like symptoms.  The term is no longer used as it has been dropped in favor of the more general term Migraine with Aura.  Just because the phrase has been lost doesn't in any way mean that it doesn't happen, or that it is any less profound.

These type of auras, while not common, are also not unheard-of.  To see one happen in front of you is disconcerting.  When you see Ms Branson's face you can tell that she is at once confused and frightened.  She does what those of us who suffer this type of aura automatically do - she tried to cover it up.  She wasn't able to because her brain was 'misfiring' and her language center stopped functioning for a short while.

During Migraine aura, the electrical system of the brain malfunctions.  A literal wave of spreading cortical depression travels up the back of the brain forward.  When it hits certain areas of the brain it plays with them.  We see things that aren't there - or nothing at all.  We hear things that aren't there, or our hearing dims.  We taste funny things, smell strange smells and feel tingly, weak or numb.  We can even have problems with how we perceive the world around us - called Alice in Wonderland Syndrome.  Sometimes - not often, but sometimes - when the wave of spreading cortical depression hits one or both of the two language centers we have in our brains, using language may become difficult, or even impossible.

Language may be words or numbers.  They may be spoken, heard, understood, written.  Math difficulties may include calculation problems that reduce us to preschoolers when asked to add or subtract small numbers.

This type of language deficit is called aphasia.  When aphasia is short-lived, we call it transient aphasia.  When it doesn't go away we just call it aphasia.  Someone who is suffering any type of aphasia is called Aphasic.

The ability to communicate is as necessary to us as breathing.  Without communication we are alone.  Communication is primal.

Shame on those who choose to laugh at Ms Branson for her health scare.  People with chronic health conditions deserve the same respect as everyone else.  This was not a case of nerves - this was obvious to everyone watching.  Janet Geddis at called Ms Branson an accidental Migraine hero, and I agree.  She stood tall in the face of some pretty nasty comments to try to educate the world what happened to her.  For those who think Migraine is just a little headache that goes away, she was the perfect illustration - something visible for a normally invisible disease - for others to get a mere glimpse into the lives of those who suffer.

Migraine is a neurological disease.  Migraine is not a headache.
Comment by Anne on April 8, 2011 at 2:05pm
This episode that Serene experienced is one of the symptoms people with CADASIL experience.  
Comment by Ellen S on April 12, 2011 at 4:12pm
Thanks so much for adding that Anne!  For those who don't know what CADASIL is and are wanting to do a little research, here is a link to a recent discussion started in the MS community about it.

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