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Why Can’t I Type or Speak? Scary Symptoms that Can Accompany Migraine with Aura

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Migraine  related image Photo: Getty Images

Some people who suffer from migraines also get what is called a migraine aura, usually right before the pain hits. The minority of people who experience migraine auras do not go on to have the traditional migraine pain, but most do. It is estimated that about 10 percent of migraines are accompanied by auras.

Migraine auras can present as bright, flashing lines that usually start out as a very small visual disturbance in the middle or side of the visual field and then slowly grow into the shape of half or full circles. The lines may look like a zigzag pattern filled with color and may interfere with the ability to see, or they can be off to the side in the peripheral vision area. They will often last for about five to 60 minutes and can make people feel dizzy or confused.

I’ve had migraine with auras here and there over the past dozen or so years. The first one scared the bejabbers out of me. Since then, I’ve done enough research on them to pretty much know what symptoms might be headed my way. And from what I’ve read, some of them are pretty scary.

For example, some people who are in the throes of a migraine with aura might exhibit symptoms that are very similar to those who are experiencing a stroke.

According to the LiveStrong.com website, some people who are having an aura will suddenly have difficulty with language. The technical term for this is aphasia. It’s unusual, but it happens, and it’s definitely something to be aware of if you have this type of migraine.

This aphasia can take on many forms, including being unable to speak correctly or form sentences, not being able to read, forgetting how to spell words or write emails or texts, and misunderstanding what others are saying to you.

You can see why this might lead friends and family members, as well as the person having the migraine with aura to think that he or she is having a stroke. Case in point: reporter Serene Branson who suddenly started slurring her words and speaking jibberish during a live telecast of the Grammy Awards in February, 2011.

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EmpowHER Guest

I am not a medical professional so if you have any stroke like symptoms you should still see a doctor. However I have done some research since I had a very alarming migraine yesterday and want share what I found. Migraines that seem to mimic a stroke are a specific type called a "hemiplegic"migraine. While anyone can have a migraine, hemiplegic migraines are a result of a genetic disorder from a gene mutation. They're apparently very rare compared to the regular kind. Normal migraines are often comprised of an aura and a headache with light sensitivity. I think the author was confused about what an aura actually is. It's not a state of confusion or aphasia, it's the term for the silver, shiny looking arc (or other hallucination) that shoes up in your vision and sometimes makes it hard to see. However aphasia, often accompanied by confusion and/or slurred speech is more indicative of a hemiplegic migraine. If you have one of those, you may also experience paralysis or numbness on the left side of your body. If this happens don't freak out! If it is a migraine it will pass and the paralysis will only be temporary. If you don't know if you have this condition, then you should go to the ER asap incase you are actually having a stroke.

This happened to me yesterday while I was home alone cooking breakfast. I knew I had a history of ocular migraines usually accompanied by nausea, an aura, visual distortions, blind spots and mild aphasia but I wasn't prepared for the severity of my episode yesterday. As soon as I began to notice these visual symptoms, I immediately took some aspirin which usually seems to stop most of the pain before it starts. I prepared to lay down and ride it out like usual but I was suddenly hit by a severe wave of confusion. I couldn't make sense of words or numbers and felt disassociated from my own limbs. At the time I was cooking. I began to panic and tried to turn off the stove which took probably 5 minutes because I couldn't understand the dial. I was so confused and disoriented I started to have an anxiety attack. I felt like I couldn't discern between what was real and what was my brain playing bricks on me. The only thing I could begin to relate it to is having a bad psychedelic trip. I didn't know if I was having a stroke or some sort of psychotic break. All I could do was sit and try over and over again to dial my mother since I knew she had debilitating migraines as well. In my irrational stupor I decided it would be a good idea to see if this had ever happened to her before calling 911. It took many tries to actually type anything into my phone but she wasn't answering anyway. I tried to calm myself down by playing som relaxing music and I found that I was unable to sing along or even hum correctly. I was slurring my singing. After about 30 minutes of this horrid confusion I began to see the silver aura, my head began to hurt and my left hand went numb. The numbness began to slowly travel up my arm. This made me feel better and worse. The aura was relieving because I knew I was having a migraine, not something new. The numbness made me think there must REALLY be something wrong with my brain. By this time, my roommate had come home and was offering to take me to the ER. I kept saying I should wait until I heard from my mom. It seemed unlikely that I, an extremely active and nutritionally conscious 20 year old, would be having a stroke. The confusion and aphasia was going away and I was left with a completely numb hand and a mild headache. So I immediately began looking these things up and found out about hemiplegic migraine. I saw that I fit just about every symptom and read that it's common to have a parent with it as well. It all made sense. I suddenly remembered 2 separate times as a kid when my mom had such a horribly disorienting and confusing migraine we had to pull over on the side of the road and wait it out. She would lose her vision, see the silver aura and be almost unable to communicate. Years later, she had at least 2 episodes where she thought she was having a stroke and told my stepfather and I to keep an eye on her. She felt disassociated from her body parts and was having an extremely hard time understanding us. I don't remember personally but she thought she was slurring her speech. Before we could take her to the hospital it passed and she was left with a headache.

I have yet to have this confirmed by a doctor but after explaining this to my mom, we both have plans to see a neurologist.

If this has ever happened to you I want you to know, hemiplegic migraines are benign but terrifying. They're also unpredictable. They can come at any time and vary in severity each time. I believe it's rare but some episodes can be so severe the person can pass out or even go into a coma. If you think you may have this, I encourage you to speak to your doctor about doing tests. There's a medication you can take to mitigate the effects (like paralysis or losing conscious) which could become dangerous if you're alone.

Again, I took a risk not assuming the worst. I should have gone to the ER to rule out stroke right away. Luckily I was fine. But others shouldn't take that risk.

However I hope this helps someone out or gives them something to ask their doctor about. Or at least helps them relax during an episode. I know it would have helped me yesterday to know about this. Feeling like you're going insane with no one around to help is a terrifying feeling.

June 9, 2016 - 10:41pm
EmpowHER Guest

The first time I had a migraine, not aware that it was a migraine, it was accompanied by aphasia (again, not aware of what it was). I was 19 yrs old and had a 3 day old baby. I was on the phone with my sister and she was telling me about "Marcellous", her boyfriend of 16 months, and the whole time she was speaking I was searching for who he was. I knew the name felt familiar. I knew I should know who this was, but I couldn't place it. When she mentioned "our cousin Joey", I had the drew the same blank. I thought it was due to lack of sleep and just having a baby. A few months later, I experienced the aura. I thought I was going blind. I lost sight of everything on my left. I made an appointment to see the optometrist. He examined me and asked a few questions. His diagnosis/treatment? "You're having a severe classic migraine. Go to Wendy's down the street and have a large Coke. You should feel better." He was right. Since then, now 24 years later, I recognize the signs and medicate with caffeine. Even so, I still worry whenever the aura rears it's ugly head, and I panic if/when aphasia hits. I can remember crying as I searched for the word "caffeine" when an episode hit me quicker than normal and without the tell tale precursor warnings.

Now, I fear ailments and diseases which cause problems with memory and thinking. I am terrified of Alzheimers and other forms of dementia. I sympathize with those afflicted with these diseases. I no longer give presentations at work, since I tried to give one during a migraine 6 months ago and couldn't remember the name of my co-presenter, and have limited myself to a 'desk' job so that any migraines with aphasia are easily detected - thereby lessening my feeling of panic. I try to challenge myself in other ways to keep my brain sharp and empowered.

Anyone else have to make life changes like this due to migraines, auras and aphasia?

May 19, 2016 - 9:18am
EmpowHER Guest

I had never had a migraine before, but they run in my family, so I was aware of some of the symptoms. I woke up one morning with a severe headache on one side of my head, nausea, and sensitivity to light and sound, so I was pretty sure that it was a migraine. The problem was that it wouldn't go away. On the second day, I woke up and realized that I was having memory problems. I couldn't remember when my kids were supposed to be at school. By the third day, I couldn't remember how to write my name, half my face was drooping and I couldn't follow what people around me were saying.

I remember being at the hospital and having my head scanned. The next month is a blur. They tried all the migraine meds and nothing touched it. My mom stayed with us because I was totally incapacitated. I developed a myoclonic jerk in my left shoulder (my headaches are on the right) which is still with me when I'm tired.

My headache went on for months without cease. Thankfully, not with the full intensity of those first few weeks, but still with cognitive difficulty.

Eventually, it was discovered that my estrogen/Progesterone levels were off and I started taking Progesterone cream. The headache stopped immediately and hopefully I can put that chapter behind me!

April 1, 2016 - 3:47am
EmpowHER Guest

I had my first incident with aphasia when I was 14 (in school, I suddenly lost my peripheral vision in one eye and almost completely lost it in the other and what i could see was like looking through a waterfall, i had an intense headache, a sense of being 'disconnected' -when i looked down at my own hands, it's like they weren't mine- and an inability to understand any form of language be it writing (i've read what I tried to write, it's quite funny reading it back), reading, understanding other peoples speech or speaking myself and the scariest was not being able to form worded thoughts- as in when you panic and you do the whole mental 'don't panic, everythings okay'). The first thought of my teacher was that I was having a stroke but when I got to hospital and had recovered enough, they told me it was an aura migraine but only explained the visual symptoms and disregarded the language side (Which had really freaked me out). It's a comfort to find out that it is in fact aphasia and that it's not as dangerous and scary as it seems.

January 16, 2016 - 5:35am
EmpowHER Guest

I have had opthalmic or ocular migraines with the aphasia on and off for 15 years. I don't get much of a headache but just a throbbing up the back of my neck up into my head. They started when I was in my mid 30's at a stressful time in my life and I was teaching. I started seeing spots and white and black spots and squiggly lines and couldn't say the word "Australia" or link simple sentences. It progressed when I went in the teachers' lounge and I went to the dr. right away, (and I am not one to leave my students). My blood pressure was sky high, not sure if it was cause or effect but I have been on low dose BP meds ever since. I have had some recurrences ever since but lately they have been coming in consecutive days. I'm 49. I am thinking it could be due to peri-menopause or excess caffeine. If they happen when I am at school, I take Ibuprofen right away. It takes time to take effect and I couldn't remember a name of a student yesterday. But, I have talked to my students about them. However, I prefer the meditation mentioned at the beginning of the thread. Any other ideas would be greatly appreciated as I am having one now and can barely type properly anymore.

January 15, 2016 - 9:07am
EmpowHER Guest
Anonymous (reply to Anonymous)

@anonymous re your chronic migraine with aura is what I've had for years and is triggered by my hormones.
Treatment involves preventative, abortive, or treat the headache after it occurs (which doesnt always work).
If the occurance is weekly or less, meds such as imitrix or sumatriptan are effective abortive treatment of the aura/headache. I had almost daily occurances so I took a preventative medication, a tricyclic antidepressant, and later a newer SSRI antidepressant which reduced the migraines to almost zero, maybe 2 a year. Find the meds that work for you as absent serious heart conditions, they are safe if taken as directed because it's a huge relief to be migraine free as the aura alone can be debilitating esp if driving or while giving a presentation while working, etc. I've had trouble driving and have tripped over furniture due to the blind spot from visual auras, but a full blown migraine with aura and pain can affect you for days but it can be prevented. I've used medication for years without problem and don't understand when people will choose to forgo effective treatment based on unfounded fears. A good family doctor should be able to help a patient find the right treatment for his/her situation. keep in mind that aging and changing hormones may require adjustments in medications and/or dosages.
Generally, OTC meds like motrin, aleve, tylenol are not effective on migraine with aura - only on some of the pain if at all.

February 21, 2016 - 3:05pm
EmpowHER Guest

I've been having mild to strong migraines for a few years now (52 yr.-old) and occasionally have some aphasia. The migraines almost always start with aura. Often I'll get tiny migraines where there is a just a sudden shift in my visual perception followed by a sparkle. Sometimes the sparkle disappears pretty quickly and I get a slight headache and other times it grows and develops into a full visual aura. I've gradually learned my triggers, what medication to take that works for me (ibuprofen), and what to do when an aura starts and looks like it is going to keep developing.

My main "medication" when an aura starts in earnest is meditation (no pills at all). If I can be in a quiet place and sit, I will do so for one hour to one and a half hours until it feels like the pain-development stage is over. Often doing this will completely derail the pain part of the headache so that I'm back to normal activities within 90 minutes. If I don't do the meditation and don't take any ibuprofen — I take ibuprofen when I can't sit quietly — I will have pain. Sometimes the pain will just be annoying and depressing other times debilitating, though I haven't had debilitating for quite a while due knowing how to manage the episodes. Ibuprofen seems to reduce the pain to manageable levels but not eliminate it.

Anyways, the main reason I'm writing this is to let other migraine sufferers know the meditation procedure I use when a migraine starts.
1) Sit quietly and relaxed. Sitting is important. No matter what you do if you lie down you'll have a stronger migraine.
2) Close your eyes.
3) Start to focus on your breathing. The focus of your attention should be deep in your body and the sensations the in- and out-breath produce low in your belly. The idea is to take the focus off your head.
4) As you breath in relax and experience the breathing sensations. As you breath out relax your upper body while maintaining a good posture: shoulders, neck, chest, face, everything. This relaxation will be a gradual process of releasing more tension as you go deeper.
5) If pain or discomfort arises relax and go back to the breathing sensation low in your body. There might be twinges of pain or sensations in your head but don't react, they pass. Part of the problem we experience when we have migraines is to dramatize them and panic: "I hate my life!" "This is terrible!". This creates tension and helps the migraine to develop, rather than recede. In the migraine context negative thoughts, no matter how justified they may seem, just make matters worse.
6) Don't worry about being bored for 60-90 minutes - it's better than having a migraine! And if you do this right you well feel way better than if you hadn't done it. At the very least you will have a weaker migraine and have saved yourself from having to take medicine.

If you can meditate every day to become used to it you will be prepared when a migraine does come, and in the mean time you'll help yourself be a happier person.

November 19, 2015 - 5:38am
EmpowHER Guest

I have suffered aura migraines since I was 12. I am now 40. I've had two migraines that have scared the hell out of me. One, I could not remember my husband or daughters names. I was told that I may have had a stroke. Never did see the doctor, cause everything came back. Today, I have experienced another scary one. With the aura, of course I lost vision in my peripheral vision, I also could not recognize where I was. I relied on memory. I could not tell my daughters what I was experiencing because I did not want them to be scared too.

November 5, 2015 - 5:02pm
EmpowHER Guest

I just had a strange experience that might have been an aura. I gave someone my address, and it came out with two mistakes. I have lived there for seven years! About ten minutes later I felt a migraine coming on.

October 23, 2015 - 8:34pm
EmpowHER Guest

Hi I have never had migraines before. Yesterday was the first time, as soon as I got home suddenlyI couldn't see half of my hand as if there were circles, then i sat on the computer to check some things but couldnt read at all, i tried really hard and taught i was loosing it. It was very scary then i went to bed i had 2 panadols had a pizza but it did not get away then suddenly i got a numbness in my right hand. I havent gone to the doctor yet i slept all night from 5pm to 7 am.

September 14, 2015 - 1:49am
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