Pair of hands with one featuring lightning bolts to represent numbness

Hemiplegic Migraine and Me

Last updated: July 2022

As I lay in bed, moaning through nausea, with an ice pack on my head and my hands under the covers to keep them warm, my mother came to check on me. I'd had one or two migraines before, but this one came with a strange new symptom: numbness and tingling. First, it was half my face, then my tongue, too, my right hand joined in, next to my whole right arm.

Would the numbness spread to my heart?

"Mom, what happens if the numbness spreads?" I asked.

"I don't know. I think it'll get better soon," my mom said, and, through my aura, I could see her brow thicken with worry.

"What if the numbness spreads to my heart?" I said. I feared that my heart would stop.

She frowned. "It won't," she said unconvincingly. She called the doctor, who didn't have any useful information.

Was it a stroke?

I feel bad for my mom; she was out of her depth in the age before the internet let us type in our symptoms and search for answers. She knew at this point it was a migraine, but, to her, it also looked a whole lot like a stroke, which ran in our family. I had a grandparent on each side die of complications from a stroke. An intensely chatty child, I couldn't form words well, and my face was half numb. In the stroke acronym FAST (face, arms, speech, time), I was halfway there.

Was it hemiplegic migraine?

Now, I think I was experiencing hemiplegic migraine, a rare form of migraine with aura that comes with weakness on one side of the body. When the headache would come, after the aura and the weakness, it was worse or only on the side where the weakness occurred. The other migraine symptoms like light sensitivity and nausea were there, and the postdrome for these migraines was the most severe. The aura usually stuck around for the whole migraine as it was worse on the side with numbness.

Both sides were debilitating

During my adolescence and early adulthood, I got these migraines a couple of times a year. I tried to notice if it was worse on the left or the right side, but they were all debilitating.

No one in my family had them

I saw a neurologist at one point and got an MRI to rule out other reasons for the migraines, but they were just migraines, albeit strong ones. If taken early, medications helped but often didn't stop them. I was the first person in my family to have this kind of headache, though my dad did get ocular migraines occasionally.

The attacks are less severe now

I still get migraines with numbness and tingling, but none of my symptoms are as severe as they were when I was a kid. I think if I had one today and it was as bad as when I was young, I'd go to the ER to rule out stroke since I'm older now and am at risk due to family history and a history of migraine with aura. I'm not going to mess around with stroke symptoms, but likely, these neurological experiences are due to migraine.

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