FRIDAY, Feb. 18 (HealthDay News) -- Many people who watched Los
Angeles 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
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 Friday.
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.
For people whose first experience with a migraine is a complex
migraine, Sacco advises that they assume it is a stroke,
"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.
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
"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
The big difference between a stroke and a complicated migraine
is that the effects of the migraine are completely reversible, he
"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.
For more on migraines, visit the
U.S. National Institute of Neurological Disorders and
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