Serene Branson Stroke Scare -- It Happened to Me Too!

Sheri Reed

Serene Branson strokeWhen I saw the video of CBS reporter Serene Branson suddenly bumbling out incomprehensible words on the air the other night, in what everyone later deemed to be a possible stroke, it totally freaked me out. You can see Serene try to correct her speech, only to realize she is suddenly incapable, and then her eyes widen in fear. What a scary nightmare! And I know because I have had the same thing happen to me -- more than once.

Not only have I found myself suddenly unable to speak, but I was also unable to turn clear thoughts into words and unable to read words on paper. I thought for sure I was having a stroke.

Read on to hear the diagnosis.

I didn't have a stroke, thank God. However, they did give me a diagnosis. I've been diagnosed with migraine syndrome, which most people think of as being horribly painful headaches and that's all. However, migraine syndrome, for me and many others, can come with some other scary symptoms.

Symptoms I've experienced during a migraine:

  • Visual auras and spots and holes in vision
  • Light sensitivity
  • Numbness in my arms and face, including lips and tongue
  • Confusion
  • Dizziness
  • Inability to pronounce common words or construct basic sentences
  • Inability to come up with basic words
  • Inability to read words on paper
  • Headache, from dull to blindingly severe

Over the past decade or so that I've experienced migraines, I've had a couple MRIs (all clear!) and seen a neurologist, only to be told I am experiencing "normal" symptoms of migraine syndrome.

My migraines usually come on with light sensitivity and some sort of visual disturbances, as well as some paranoia-inducing confusion. Ordinary things feel slightly confusing, as I imagine mild dementia probably feels. After that, I often experience numbness down my left arm and in my face or fingertips. That's how I know the migraine itself is coming. In my most severe onset, I could only point to make my needs known. Somehow, I couldn't get the words or thoughts in my mind to make it out of my mouth. And yep, all that's normal, the doctors say.

From what I've been told, medical professionals do not totally understand the cause of migraines; however, the migraine causes constriction and swelling of the blood vessels in the brain, which explains all these strange neurological symptoms. It doesn't make them any more fun to contend with though.

I am lucky that my migraines are few and far between. I've probably had less than 50 in the past 10 years. So many women have them much more frequently. I am also grateful the migraines themselves never last more than an hour and that only a handful of the migraines included the really scary stroke-like symptoms. I can't tell you how frightening it is to not be able to speak all of a sudden -- because frankly, you're total aware of it, you know you're losing it, and you're not sure if you're ever going to snap out of it -- if this time you really are having a stroke or losing your mind forever.

Add being a parent to young kids into the mix, and you have an extra worrisome combination. It's common practice for me now, if I'm home alone or alone with the kids, to make a call (before I forget how to dial!!! it happens!) to a friend or family member to keep check on me for the next hour or so. It also helps that my oldest son can use the phone now. If my husband is home, I just go to bed.

It's still to be revealed what happened to Serene Branson the other night. Reports are ruling out stroke, so perhaps she also suffered a migraine or a small seizure or a transient ischemic attack (TIA), which is like a mini-stroke and can be a forewarning of an actual stroke.

It's no laughing matter, that's for sure, especially because migraine sufferers are about twice as likely to suffer an ischemic stroke as people without migraines, according to findings published in the American Journal of Medicine.

For now, I like to joke (even though it's not really funny) that I'm "practicing for my future stroke." And by practicing, I mean I drink a Pepsi (the caffeine seems to help subside the symptoms), and if it's one of the really bad ones, I go to bed so I don't get super paranoid or make myself insane trying to think or speak while the symptoms are at their worst.

Do you have migraine syndrome or have you experienced symptoms like this before?


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