Doctor: Grammy reporter suffered migraine, is 'back to normal'
February 17th, 2011
09:12 PM ET

Doctor: Grammy reporter suffered migraine, is 'back to normal'

A migraine - not a stroke - caused a Los Angeles television reporter to mangle her words during a live post-Grammy Awards report on Sunday night, according to the UCLA doctors who examined her in the days after the incident.

KCBS reporter Serene Branson (pictured) suffered a migraine with aura - meaning neurological symptoms that in this case included language problems - causing her to speak gibberish during her report, according to Dr. Andrew Charles, migraine expert and UCLA professor of neurology.

"She’s completely back to normal," Charles said in a telephone interview Thursday, adding that he cleared Branson to return to all activities with no limitation.

Branson's report outside the Staples Center, widely viewed on YouTube early this week before the video was taken down, sparked concerns that she had suffered a stroke.

"A very, very heavy burtation tonight," she said before continuing with incomprehensible words.

Her station said paramedics examined her at the scene but she was not hospitalized, and a colleague gave her a ride home.

Branson was seen early in the week by the chief of neurosurgery at the Ronald Reagan UCLA Medical Center, Dr. Neil Martin, and then Thursday morning by Charles, UCLA spokesman Mark Wheeler said.

A scan ruled out a stroke, eventually leading Martin and Charles to diagnose a migraine, which can present symptoms similar to a stroke, Charles said.

Branson's migraine included a headache and three types of aura - the language troubles plus distorted vision and numbness, Charles said.

"It was quite remarkable that she was actually standing and doing the (report) that she was doing, given what she was experiencing at the time," Charles said. "She was aware of what was happening and was upset about it, but there was no time to back out of what she was doing."

Charles said about 20 to 30 percent of migraine patients experience some type of aura, and those who do most commonly experience visual aura – flashing, wavy lines, or blurry vision.

Such a migraine "can be triggered by different life events, like any migraine – changes in patterns of sleep or diet or exercise or caffeine," Charles said.

Charles stressed that anyone experiencing the symptoms that Branson did should get checked immediately. "The symptoms can be indistinguishable (from that of a stroke) initially, so it's important to emphasize the need to rule that out first," he said.

Branson is expected to address the incident in an interview on KCBS Thursday night.

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Filed under: California • Health • Migraines • TV
soundoff (463 Responses)
  1. Maria

    What happened to Serene Branson may be symptoms of hypoglycemia, a drop in blood sugar. Something similar to what happened to her happened to me some years ago. Instantly, I got a headache and my speech became slurred. I also lost control of muscle coordination. It all passed as soon as I had something to eat; in my case, a Lifesavers candy. That brought my sugar level up and I was back to normal (headache gone, clear speech, good coordination).

    February 18, 2011 at 12:00 pm | Report abuse |
  2. Lady GaGa

    What she was trying to say was,
    "Ra ra, ah ah ah
    Roma, roma-ma
    GaGa, oh la-la

    Ra ra, ah ah ah
    Roma, roma-ma
    GaGa, oh la-la"

    February 18, 2011 at 12:00 pm | Report abuse |
  3. JohnLI

    I get them and they suck, the worst part is the nausea. I don't get auras by my vision goes to hell for a couple days at a time. The head pain can be bad at times, an ice pack on the face can help.

    February 18, 2011 at 12:02 pm | Report abuse |
  4. Collin

    I get migraines. A lot of people do not realize that the symptoms of a migrane are similiar to a stroke. I can have a migrane without having a headache. First signs are either I have a blind spot or squiggly line in the center of my visions, or I am trying to talk and either my words come out in the wrong order, or I cannot remember how to speak. If I recognize these signs then I can take advil or tylenol, do some deep breathing and relaxation techniques. If it progresses then I become very light and sound sensative. The flickering of a florescent light will drive me nuts, and my left side will go numb with my left hand curling in. My peripheral vision will also disappear.

    I understand what she went through. Sometimes you are in the middle of something and hope that you can finish before it gets bad enough to cause a problem.

    February 18, 2011 at 12:06 pm | Report abuse |
    • BobTheRam

      My migraine had almost the same vision problem as yours. It would list for about 15 min. I could not see words on my book some times. Then the headache would hit me, but my vision would come back to normal. My first migraine started when I was 13, and my last one was about three years ago when I was 40. Some of my brothers and one of my sister have migraine as well.

      February 18, 2011 at 1:31 pm | Report abuse |
    • gsutko

      I get those same kind of migraines, and if I realize it in time I can take a medication that makes it SO much better. You even only have to just put it under your tongue, so it acts quicker and you don't have to swallow it (if you get nauseous). If the advil/tylenol is working for you, that's awesome. But if the migraine persists after those meds, you might try talking to your medication is called maxalt. I can start getting blind in one eye, and then not be able to say the words that I want, but then as soon as I take the medicine I return close to normal!

      February 19, 2011 at 3:02 pm | Report abuse |
  5. Tami

    I also experience this type of aura – it comes about 30 minutes to an hour before the excruciating pain. I didn't realize it until my husband started to track episodes of "lost words and gibberish talk". Now I have a fairly accurate indicator that I need to medicate, or plan to suffer for many hours. This aura didn't develop until my late 30's, even though I've had migraines since I was a small child. Hopefully, this episode can be used to help Serene in the future.

    February 18, 2011 at 12:09 pm | Report abuse |
  6. MTG

    I can so relate. I used to get them and then have to drive home from work in the middle of the day. I'd have to drive with my head sideways so I could see straight – take a pit stop and then continue. . . and I hadn't even made happy-hour at that point! Totally get it.

    February 18, 2011 at 12:09 pm | Report abuse |
  7. The Brain: our fragile little sponge

    For those who suffer from chronic disorders, like MS, this kind of thing can become a fact of daily life. If symptoms like this repeat, see a doc! In the recent past these early warning signs were often dismissed as trivial. Sadly many of us don't qualify for an MRI after a single garbled speech incident.

    February 18, 2011 at 12:09 pm | Report abuse |
  8. Josh

    This has happened to me... its totally legit...Numbness, then can't talk, then terrible headach that lasts all day. It always freaks the Drs. out. I Had a cat scan and everything...just a rare type of migraine...Glad she's ok now.

    February 18, 2011 at 12:10 pm | Report abuse |
  9. MoxeeGirl

    I used to get these kind of migraines – specifically with speech impairment – when I worked in a call center under fluorescent lights. It seemed to be the specific kind of lights that did it. It sucked because I would have to leave work (can't take calls if you can't talk!)

    February 18, 2011 at 12:21 pm | Report abuse |
  10. dragonflyrx

    Many of us suffer with migraines. Try not enjoying chocholate for over ten years now. I'm allergic to it, it causes migraines. Also lack of sleep.. Those sick with migraines are not to proud to display our illness cause we hide in the dark. All light and sounds, even food, makes us so sick we hide in the dark. Work is not even important (at least not to me). Serene Branson craved attention and got it. Either that, or she just won't admit she just screwed up on her report. Maybe Serene Branson needs to read cue cards to not screw up again.

    February 18, 2011 at 12:22 pm | Report abuse |
    • scribble

      live reporters don't normally have cue cards, that's a benefit for only for very highly paid in station reporters and tv hosts. and even if she did, its doubtful that she would have been able to vocalize what she was reading. her migraine caused her to have a type of aphasia, an inability to speak. But it probably didn't effect her ability to understand or read.

      February 18, 2011 at 12:59 pm | Report abuse |
    • lsn

      I doubt that she was seeking attention for this. I've had migraines where I could talk just fine but I couldn't read anything to save my life – not due to visual aura, but just cognitively not being able to sound out the words on the page. It's very embarassing when running a meeting at work, and there's no warning before the symptoms start. Luckily I'm not in a high profile position like Ms Branson was. Also, it seems as though this was her first migraine, given the specialists she saw and the CT scan to confirm the diagnosis/rule out more serious diagnoses, so she probably didn't even know herself what was going on.

      February 18, 2011 at 1:36 pm | Report abuse |
  11. Otto

    Now that we know she didn't have a stroke is it acceptable to laugh at her again? When I get migraines I puke. That might have made for a good YouTube video too

    February 18, 2011 at 12:27 pm | Report abuse |
  12. HATTIE


    February 18, 2011 at 12:51 pm | Report abuse |
    • scribble

      You obviously are going to the wrong physicians. There are plenty of docs out there who care and take care of patients effectively with migraines. However, you sometimes have to search for them, because there are plenty of doctors who don't understand migraines. Also many docs are so scared of prescribing pain medications because the government is evaluating how much pain meds they dispense. Try to find another doctor, even if you need to try several until you get someone who sympathizes. But don't expect them to just casually dispense pain meds like demerol or morphine. It just won't happen. They are too worried about losing their licenses. Sad but true.

      February 18, 2011 at 1:05 pm | Report abuse |
    • Mary

      I hope you can find a good doctor and get some relief. Migraines can be terrible.

      February 18, 2011 at 1:43 pm | Report abuse |
    • Migraine sufferer

      I have suffered from migraines for more than 7 years now, generally once a week (or more) for 24 hours at a time. I have had speech distortion too, although not as bad as this reporter. I know from personal experience, as frequent and as painful as my migraines are, if I could not get medication to alleviate my migraines, I would not want to continue living. But thankfully, there are plenty of medications out there that do work. You should try a medication in the triptan family like imitrex or relpax. They work really well for me. Recently, I have started taking plain old aspirin at the first sign of an aura and making sure I drink plenty of water and sometimes a beverage with electrolytes in it, and that helps prevent some migraines, as well. If you get migraines often, then you can take a daily medication like a beta blocker to prevent them. There is no reason you should be suffering without help.

      February 18, 2011 at 5:04 pm | Report abuse |
  13. scribble

    I hope this opens up some legitimate discussion on migraines since it undoubtedly appears that many have no clue what they are. Its sad to see that it takes a person's health failing on national tv before mainstream public gets an understanding of what they are. I have had massive complex migraines for 30+ years. They have interfered with just about every aspect of my life. I have heard so often from people that say "oh yeah, I get headaches too" but I can guarantee they didn't really understand what mine were like. I hope what happened to her gets this topic more sympathy especially in the work place and even with medical professionals than it has in the past. I hope she feels better and she never has this happen to her again.

    February 18, 2011 at 12:54 pm | Report abuse |
  14. Migraine Sufferer

    I've had migraines with auras since I had my first one at age 12–I just couldn't figure out why I couldn't see the words on the page! These types of headaches are NOT "just headches", they are completely debilitating and disabling and if you get the visual aura along with it, just forget it. Your day is toast, as you curl in the fetal position in the dark first wondering if you're going to have an aneurysm and die...and then sometimes getting to a point where you don't care if you die.

    Personally, I am shocked at the responses posted by people who've had migraines themselves and are making fun of her. Haven't you ever experienced someone thinking you are a wimp because "just a headche" causes you to lie motionless for a day or more? Have a little more empathy!

    February 18, 2011 at 1:11 pm | Report abuse |
    • Michael

      Same with me, been have them sence I was 14 im 31 now,,,,,,,, I get the full classic migrane with aura. Myaura is so close to a stroke its not even funny, i lose 60% of my vision, one hand or the other goes numb and i cant even speak or think in correct order, I feel your pain best of luck!

      February 18, 2011 at 9:58 pm | Report abuse |
  15. Carol

    I have suffered with migraines most of my life. The last few years I have had migraines without aura. These are very scary because you don't know they are coming. Each time I was taken to the hospital and checked out for stroke. The last one I blacked out while driving on freeway and was arrested for DUI because I was driving erratically. .I finally found a neurologist who prescribed a drug that I take every day to prevent them. There are some wonderful new drugs that can help Migraine Sufferers get some relief.

    February 18, 2011 at 2:19 pm | Report abuse |
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