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. Gillian

    I get migraines every day for about a week, then have a few days without one. This has been going on for quite a number of years and no one has ever been able to identify a trigger. Drinking coffee helps (because of the caffeine) but I have to be careful because too much caffeine is a trigger, so it's a catch-22. My migraines aren't continuous (as in 24 hours/day) for the week, during the period I have them it starts everyday and I take Maxalt as soon as I feel it coming on which stops it until the next day, and the cycle repeats itself for approx a week. Before I was put on Maxalt my migraines were horrific and I would have 3 days straight of pain so bad it felt like someone was continually hitting me in the head with a sledgehammer, and I'd have hot/cold flashes & vomiting, couldn't sleep, and felt like I was dying. I missed a lot of work because of them and got constantly reprimanded at work because they didn't believe my migraines could be so bad as to make me stay home. It's like everyone has been commenting, until you've had one, you can't even begin to understand the agony.
    I've had plenty of CT's & MRI's and luckily nothing worse than migraine has been diagnosed. My neurologist thinks I'm actually having week-long migraines that are temporarily stopped everyday by the Maxalt. The Maxalt costs at least $4000/year (covered by insurance thank goodness), and I can't imagine not having it, I'd jump off a bridge if I had no treatment. It's like everyone said, unless you've had one, you can't even begin to understand the horror of a migraine. The commercials I see that say "take an Advil for your migraine" make me laugh. But I did find the comment about drinking lots of water interesting, except I already drink plenty of water everday (at least 10 glasses). But I do feel dehydrated much of the time (diabetes also ruled out), so that makes me wonder if there is a connection between the dehydration & my migraines.
    What is really interesting is now my neurologist wants to try injecting Botox in my scalp for my migraines, this was just approved recently as a migraine treatment. I have the type that it works for (imploding migraines). Supposedly it helps relieve most of them for 2-6 months, if that were true I can't even imagine what it would be like. Except it costs $500 per treatment and so far I haven't been able to get a straight answer from my insurance company if they'll pay for it. They're already paying for the Maxalt so you'd think they'd pay for the Botox because it would only cost them 1/2 as much. But insurance companies always screw everyone around, so i have a feeling they won't cover it.
    I'm SO glad the reporter is OK, but the part of the story that worries me is that paramedics examined her and sent her home? She should have had an emergency CT at the very least. That is really disturbing. Thank goodness she didn't have a stroke.
    Thanks everyone for sharing your migraine experiences on here, I found it really helpful to read them and know I'm not alone.

    February 17, 2011 at 10:56 pm | Report abuse |
  2. s weiss

    These are serious symptoms. I just saw a report from FOX TV saying that these symptoms were the result of a Migraine
    that is really hard to believe. This young woman needs to have aggressive follow up with a Neurologist. Nancy Snyderman was spot on when she said that this young woman should have been brought to the hospital and had a CT scan and been admitted for observation. Her chances of having another event within the next year ar great!
    Thanks

    Sue RN

    February 17, 2011 at 11:01 pm | Report abuse |
    • Me

      Dear Sue,
      If you really are an RN, please return your degree. Your comments are incredibly ignorant and explain why so many migraine sufferers have to sit in the ER for hours and hours while poorly educated nurses and doctors can't figure out what's going on.

      This reporter's symptoms were spot on, classic complicated migraine symptoms as was accurately determined by professionals. Anyone who is educated about migraines, (and you can see dozens of posts here from sufferers who have had the exact same symptoms time and time again,) can tell you that this was a migraine.

      February 18, 2011 at 5:47 am | Report abuse |
    • Gillian

      Dear "Me":
      So when did you acquire your Neurologist degree?

      February 18, 2011 at 8:57 am | Report abuse |
  3. SideFX

    I went to the Diamond Headache Clinic in Illinois for three years. They know migraines. I learned that there are many factors to a migraine. So many triggers: food, environment, overall health and more. What I also learned is that there are so many employers and people who do not seem to "get" how debilitating a migraine can be. You are frightened if it comes on suddenly and it can seem like a stroke. Sometimes there's facial disfigurations, ticks, muscle spasms, nausea and so on. I really feel for the reporter as she may receive some backlash because of it. I really hope that those around her are understanding to her situation. I'm glad that she was checked out thoroughly and is doing better.

    February 17, 2011 at 11:02 pm | Report abuse |
  4. doob

    There is nothing worse than a headache, except maybe severe nausea to me. But I've never had a migraine. I empathize for you that get them. It must be awful.

    That being said, that reporter's rant of garbled, migraine induced babblery, made me laugh so hard I peed a little.

    February 17, 2011 at 11:12 pm | Report abuse |
  5. Lisa

    I suffered from migraines with aura since I was 13. A few years back, I gave up all artificial sweeteners and the first year I did that, my migraines decreased about 50%. The next year the decrease was about 75%, and now I never get them anymore. I really feel that eating whole natural foods saved me. Artificial sweeteners are poison.

    February 17, 2011 at 11:14 pm | Report abuse |
  6. JR

    I think that one of the reasons why many people don't understand migraines, over and above not having them themselves, is how migraines are discussed in public and in commercials.

    Migraines are not headaches, or even a bad headache. A real migraine will knock you back on your heels and you're either close to non functional, or completely non functional. So when I'm chatting with someone and I ask how they're doing, and they cheerfully tell me that they have a migraine, and they're standing in a loud room, with bright lights and a smile on their face, I know that they don't even know what one is.

    Migraines run in my family. I, however, have only had one official one, and that was enough. It lasted a week and it felt like someone was driving a spike trhough the side of my head to the beat of my heart. Every day I was taken to the doctor, each day, he changed my med. I would go home, take it and ultimately vomit it back up. After a week I thought I was going nuts, couldn't take it anymore, and was driven to the ER where they put me on a Demoral drip. I didn't have an aura, but I thought initially that I was getting the flu. I was woozy, tired, and feeling like I had a bug. Took a nap, woke up an hour late with my head exploding. I spent the next week in a dark room, living on sips of water.

    Unless you've had them or know someone who has had one, you're not going to get it. Doesn't help that commercials for migraine relief show someone wincing, when the reality is so much more. I've had many people tell me in the course of some activity that they were experiencing migraines and have yet to see a person like that slow down, so my impression is that it's common for people to use the word "headache" and "migraine" interchangably, and they're definitely not the same thing.

    I've had some evil headaches in my years, but only one 'migraine'.

    February 17, 2011 at 11:25 pm | Report abuse |
    • RabiaDiluvio

      On the contrary, there are some of us who get migraine and are perfectly functional and can stand in a bright room regardless of pain or we might get pain free migraine. Don't pretend to know what someone else is dealing with. When I get hemiplegic episodes they are usually pain free.

      February 18, 2011 at 12:35 am | Report abuse |
    • dea2

      There are many types of migraines, some are aura only, some are milder than others, some are killers that knock you out for a week or more. The main criteria is that they are on one side of the head and create neurologic symptoms, including strange lights, smells, tastes, feelings etc. I have two types, and I can tell which kind is coming by what kind of aura I am having. One I can function through, one I want to curl up in a ball and die. I've had a nurse tell me that I wasn't really having a migraine because I could still walk and talk, the neurologist did an actual exam and told me, in front of her, that I was suffering from a certain type of migraine and she refused to meet my eyes when I looked at her. I guess she learned something that day.

      February 18, 2011 at 1:21 am | Report abuse |
    • Me

      If someone can function with a "migraine" then they don't have a migraine.

      February 18, 2011 at 5:51 am | Report abuse |
    • RabiaDiluvio

      BULL. There are many many different kinds of migraine and NONE of them is defined by how debilitating it is. Not one. Some are mild, causing only scotoma and so on without pain. Some can knock you off your feet for a week or more. You cannot judge whether someone has a "real migraine" by how functional he or she is. I used to go to work with full-on migraine with aura, pain, etc. I would warn my coworkers of the possibility that I might have episodes of aphasia and so on, but otherwise I was working. PLEASE do some reading before making ludicrous statements like that.

      February 18, 2011 at 10:57 am | Report abuse |
  7. CaliMafia

    Sounds like the Twinky defense to me..............

    February 17, 2011 at 11:31 pm | Report abuse |
    • BSmith

      HA! Did you come up with that yourself? You're so clever!

      February 17, 2011 at 11:45 pm | Report abuse |
  8. David

    So she kept doing her job even though she had a migraine? Shes a trooper. Many men I know would have pulled the plug.

    February 17, 2011 at 11:33 pm | Report abuse |
  9. grist, neurologist

    That is pretty quick to conclude that she simply had a complex migraine. I presume that she had a very extensive evaluation to exclude that this was not a transient ischemic attack. The article does not say that she had a history of migraine. So anyone having those symptoms needs an evaluation including an evaluation of her heart (echocardiogram at least), an MRI of the brain, evaluation of the carotid arteries, and extensive laboratory testing for diseases affecting blood clotting. Also, migraines can indeed cause strokes in which case there are called complicated migraines. In any event, any sudden neurological symptom should not be assumed to be migraine until after an extensive evaluation.

    February 17, 2011 at 11:36 pm | Report abuse |
    • Gillian

      I totally agree with what you said, grist. Too many patients are dismissed despite very severe symptoms and are sent home with a prescription and very little, if no, tests done, You are so right that extensive tests should have been done on this reporter considering what happened to her. My heart goes out for her & I hope it isn't something worse that hasn't been diagnosed. The part about her talking at length all garbled really freaked me out, that's the one symptom that's never happened to me, and I'm now surprised that it hasn't considering the severity of my migraines. My husband said if I start talking nonsense (not my normal nonsense lol) he's going to rush me to the ER right away.

      February 18, 2011 at 12:09 am | Report abuse |
    • Me

      Did you not read the article? She saw several top neurologists and a migraine expert at a highly rated hospital. I'm sure these people ran all the proper tests and are more qualified to make a diagnosis than you are.

      February 18, 2011 at 5:54 am | Report abuse |
    • Gillian

      Dear "Me",

      I think the point is (and this didn't come across) is that she should have had the extensive testing IMMEDIATELY, not sent home and had the tests done after. If what she had was a stroke, she could have died before she got home. I'm not a doctor so I don't claim to diagnose her, but I do know that my neurologist and other specialists have repeatedly told me to get to an E.R. if I have any symptoms that vary even slightly from the norm. I once went an entire day with about 50% vision loss in one eye AFTER my migraine. That had never happened before after 30 years of migraines. I had an emergency CT etc., diagnosis : imploding migraine, no stroke, thank goodness I was relieved because my doctors have repeatedly pounded into my head (no pun intended) that I'm at high risk for stroke etc.because of my migraines and also because of vision problems.

      February 18, 2011 at 9:19 am | Report abuse |
  10. DW

    I have had migraines since I was young–classic with the visual aura. As I got older, I not have the "silent" type mentioned by some (numbness in one hand, visual aura, but no pain). And then I discovery mine were caused by one particular thing which took 30 years to discover, cashew nuts. I love them but I get a migraine several days after eating them. If you have migraines, don't think they are not triggered by something–it might be some in previous days.

    February 17, 2011 at 11:37 pm | Report abuse |
  11. Jim Brieske

    I have suffered from Cluster Headaches since 2001, Had over 8000 of them. In my cycle now, have been for over two months. Get 75% of them when I go to sleep every hour and a half. Eventually, I stay awake for two days at a time. That way I can feel them coming and am not woke in a 10 pain level over and over all night.
    I stay hydrated. Doesn't matter, I still get them. Start out taking Imitrex 4 mg pen shots. They stop the pain within 10 to 15 minutes. This time after 10 days they hadn't stopped so I went to Excedrin Migraine (250mg tylenol, 250mg aspirin and 65mg caffeine) and 800mg Ibuprofen. Alternating between the two drinking coffee to push the medicine into my system faster. Attacks last 45 minutes to 4 hours 4 to 6 times in 24 hours up to year.
    Unfortunately I live in a city where the ER people at the hospital should be more informed. First of all, I don't want to be there. It was very diffucult to walk there in so much pain. Now there, I don't want people to see me like that. Crying (because I can't do anything and smashing my head against the wall could make it stop but is not a possibility) and wanting to hide from the light in a corner. Hospitals must be bright places and light hurts Cluster Headache sufferers. Next you get a doctor who has this great Benydril regiment that costs $1500. And you are trying to tell him, hey don't do that. I'm gonna have another one of these in several hours after we get this one to go away. Just gimme two percocets for $15 or a shot of a narcotic for $50. But no.
    These people look at you like, we can't give out narcotics at the hospital. That's because people have abused them by going into the ER looking for a fix.
    What it all comes down to is shared patient records. If they had my multiple patient records from Colorado here on their computer then they would see the descriptions of my numerous Cluster Headache visits to ERs in Colorado.
    jim

    February 17, 2011 at 11:44 pm | Report abuse |
    • Gillian

      Hi Jim, the mother of a friend of mine had cluster headaches and my friend told me that they are so much worse than migraines that it's unimaginable. She told me that cluster headaches are called "suicide headaches".
      The way you explained it helped me to understand them more because my friend wasn't able to describe them very well, partly because it upset her to talk about them because of her mother's suffering. The interesting thing was that her mother eventually found a neurologist who suggested she have brain surgery. I'm not sure what kind of surgery it was, but I do know that it worked for her, and that she said it was like someone had given her a new life. I just googled for cluster headache surgery and found this interesting recent article:
      http://www.bbc.co.uk/blogs/thereporters/ferguswalsh/2010/12/brain_surgery_to_relieve_headaches.html
      The article is really informative and also refers to the term "suicide headaches" (which i found quite terrifying, despite having constant migraines myself). I hope this helps you and good luck to you, take care and never give up.

      February 18, 2011 at 12:27 am | Report abuse |
  12. Abigail

    I had my first headache just like her's when I was 19 and in college. It scared the living h*ll out of me. First the auras of flashing lights in my eyes, then from what others told me I was limping a little, then I was garbling my words. After all that, 15 minutes later I developed the most painful headache I had ever had up to that point. I was in a small lecture at that time and the professor caught on to what was happening to me. It was embarrassing, but the professor called 911 and I was taken to the hospital because he thought I was having a stroke or seizure on set. I truly empathize with her. Talk about the worst possible moment for one. I hope she finds a migraine medication that works for her.

    February 17, 2011 at 11:44 pm | Report abuse |
  13. Bonnie

    I watched a replay of her event tonight. It looked more like a TIA or trans ischemic attack, related to strokes.
    I hope she is being tested carefully. I have never seen a migraine present in that way. I have personally experienced a TIA and know how crazy it is to not be able to say the words you want to say. A migraine headache followed my TIA (thereby confusing the symptoms when asked by a physician); but the medical event itself was diagnosed as a TIA not the associated migraine, and was not dismissed lightly.

    February 17, 2011 at 11:44 pm | Report abuse |
  14. Alfred E. Neuman

    I think this reporter is one tough cookie for standing in front of the cameras carrying on with her job in spite of the of all the terrible symptoms must have felt.

    February 17, 2011 at 11:47 pm | Report abuse |
  15. scribble

    People who don't have migraines just don't understand how bad they can be. Imagine the pain of being hit in the head with a hammer over and over and over. I have had them for days and have been hospitalized with them many times. When they get really bad they cause me to vomit for hours. Then, its an ambulance trip to the hospital for meds and to replenish all the lost fluids. Now, I have a team of doctors who worked hard together to help me out. Finally, I have a fairly normal life after 30+ years of agony. If you don't have them you just have no idea how awful they can be.

    February 17, 2011 at 11:48 pm | Report abuse |
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