What happened to news reporter Serene Branson?

A video of a news reporter suffering a complex Migraine resembling stroke has gone viral. See the video: Serene Branson's Complex Migraine was not a stroke Here are the facts every Migraineur and their family should know:

Complex Migraine is a descriptive term used to describe a Migraine aura that resembles a stroke.

When the (electrical) spreading cortical depression of Migraine aura reaches the centers of the brain responsible for language, Aphasia can be the result.

Aphasia is a neurological deficit that results in the inability to process language correctly, either given or received, or sometimes both. This language may be in the form of numbers or words. It may be written, heard or spoken.

When this inability to process language goes away, it is called Transient Aphasia. When the inability to process language does not go away, it is called Aphasia. Someone who is suffering any attack of aphasia is called Aphasic.

Transient aphasia can be a part of Migraine aura that mimics stroke. Telling the difference between this type of aura and a stroke or Transient Ischemic Attack (TIA) should only be done by a doctor or neurologist.

Migraine auras are frightening enough when they happen and you know what they are. When Migraine auras happen and something is unknown, new or different, they can be reason for anxiety. Migrainous stroke, while rare, is a scary possibility that must always be ruled out by your doctor. This is one reason why Migraine advocates and doctors tell Migraineurs that if their Migraine attack changes, becomes unusually severe (the worst headache of your life), or lasts longer than 3 days, the patient should consider it a signal to get to their doctor or emergency room.

Migraine auras can affect any of the senses — sight, hearing, smell, taste, touch. Even your sense of balance and information about the world around you can become distorted (Alice in Wonderland Syndrome). We have already talked about aura, including aphasic aura in this post: What is Aura?

There are two main areas in the brain responsible for reading, writing, speaking, understanding, and calculations (math). Each area is responsible for a different part of our ability to use this language. Most specifically, difficulties in language can range from trouble word finding, to the complete inability to communicate or understand any kind of language or communication. Each attack of transient aphasia can be different than the next, adding to its ability to frighten and frustrate us.

Sadly, there are those who think what happened to Serene Branson is amusing fodder for jokes. The symptoms of a stroke should never, ever be considered a joking matter, and those that choose to laugh at or persecute her for her medical condition should be ashamed of themselves.

Those readers who have checked out my Migraine.com profile will already know why I am passionate about this - I have frequently suffered the type of Migraine aura Ms. Branson suffered on air.

What does it feel like to be aphasic?

When it happens, it’s frightening. You can watch the video of Serene and see the confusion and fright in her eyes and on her face. Like most of us who suffer transient aphasia, she tries desperately to cover it up. This is very real.

For me, it is the most frustrating, humiliating thing I have ever had happen to me, and it has reduced me on more than one occasion to a weeping baby in front of my family, friends and strangers. It’s happened to me on the phone multiple times, in public many times. During meetings with clients. In front of friends and family. The worst is when it happens in front of strangers, because at first they think it’s funny — that it’s some kind of joke, just like what happened to Serene. They laugh and try to get me to be serious, and sometimes they look at me like I’m an idiot. In my head my brain is screaming at them to understand that something is horribly wrong. On the outside, I just melt.

Aphasia cost me my job as an Emergency Dispatcher. My job was speaking and listening — communicating — to keep my officers and the public safe. When I stopped being able to reliably communicate, I had to stop being the person on the phone/radio. I hope Ms Branson doesn’t have the same experience, but I wonder how many of those laughing at her have thought about the prospect she too could lose her job.

When I’m aphasic, I am trapped inside my body. I am reduced to feeling like a child who bursts into tears in frustration and despair. The need to express oneself is primal — a basic human function necessary to our survival.

Stay tuned for more posts about aphasia, stroke and Migraine…

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