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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
Anonymous

Have had ocular migraines now and again but recently had what you have referred to. Thought I was getting a migraine so closed my eyes and took deep breaths for several minutes. When I thought it passed I started to read some mail and found it was difficult and some words I couldn’t read at all even though I knew what the word meant. For example the word Nissan. I couldn’t begin to read the word but my mind new I had one in the garage. Then I realized I couldn’t remember the names of my dogs, friends and places. I was pretty panicked but the whole situation probably lasted 30 minutes at most. Scary stuff.

January 29, 2019 - 11:36am
EmpowHER Guest
Anonymous

I started getting the migraine aura after taking Ribavirin for a hepatitis C treatment. Everytime I would be somewhere that the light was pulsating it would trigger them. Walking past a chain link fence would do it. It would start from a blind spot in my vision from a mild stroke that left a small blind spot in my vision. I am now taking verapamil 40 mg three times a day and that seems to be reducing it from everyday to maybe once a week and very mild.

November 18, 2018 - 3:15pm
HERWriter Guide (reply to Anonymous)

Thanks for this update Anon - you'll help a lot of our readers who are can benefit from your experience. 

Best,

Susan

November 19, 2018 - 1:01pm
EmpowHER Guest
Anonymous

Thanks - this explains exactly what I 'suffer'.
I experience an aura - difficult to define but it's always the same. I have time to get upstairs and lie on the bed.
I can't remember how to turn off my tablet for instance and I can't speak even though I know exactly what I want to say.
I don't experience a headache and just lie down because of the dizziness. Often it clears in five minutes or so.
I was diagnosed with 'petit mal epilepsy' but have never experienced the 'standard' symptoms - this seems much more likely.
I used to have very bad migraines before I took the anti-epilepsy medicine. My attempts to save money by cutting down the dosage are rewarded by these 'episodes'.
I would assume that epilepsy (a stigma) and migraine ('better' than just a headache) are closely related.

April 30, 2018 - 8:32pm
EmpowHER Guest
Anonymous

I had this happen to me 13 years ago when I was 15years old. I had a sudden headache, light sensitivity, tingling in my arm and I could not speak. Anything that I said was gibberish. I was so freaked out and was trying to read words on signs and it came out as slurred unintelligible sounds. I tried to pray and I could not even form words in my head to pray. Then all of a sudden normal function returned and I felt normal. Since then I've always thought I had experienced a TIA, however I really think it was migraine with aura.

April 21, 2017 - 9:12pm
EmpowHER Guest
Anonymous

My first migraine episode happened soon after I had my first child. I would get them twice a month and they would be so dibilitating. They would start out with blinding spots in my vision and then the nausea and pain hit. Over the years they have gotten worse. Recently I started having one before work. Luckilya friend of mine drove me because I was having a hard time seeing. What was really scary was he was talking to me but I was not proccessing anything. I was too busy trying to remember all my customers names which was not happening. Then my fingers and face got all tingly. I couldnt feel my arm and tongue for a good five minutes. It was absolutely terrifying. This has been happening at least once a month for the past 4 years. My doctor ended putting me on blood pressure medication which has worked like a dream.

December 21, 2016 - 1:06pm
EmpowHER Guest
Anonymous

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
Anonymous

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
Anonymous

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
Anonymous

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
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We value and respect our HERWriters' experiences, but everyone is different. Many of our writers are speaking from personal experience, and what's worked for them may not work for you. Their articles are not a substitute for medical advice, although we hope you can gain knowledge from their insight.

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