By: Dr. Maria Simbra

PITTSBURGH (KDKA) — It looks like a stroke, but it’s really something called migraine with aura.

“I wanted to say Lady Antebellum swept the Grammys, and I could think of the words, but they weren’t coming out properly,” said KCBS reporter Serene Branson said during the CBS Early Show Friday morning.

With her outburst of nonsensical speech during a live shot following the Grammys last weekend, there was a lot of worry she was having a stroke. However, it turns out, it wasn’t quite that serious.

“Typically with a migraine aura, you’ll have this electrical wave that begins in the back of the brain and then gradually moves forward,” said Dr. Lara Kunschner, a neurologist at Allegheny General Hospital.

As this happens, people can have flashing lights or zig zag lines in their vision, numbess and language problems. This can happen with, or even without, a headache.

“I had a headache, my vision was very blurry, I knew something wasn’t right, but I just thought I was tired,” Branson described.

Branson also has a family history of this – a characteristic of migraine.

“I didn’t even know my mother suffered from them until after this happened; and she said, you know, when I was in my earlier years, I had a few of them,” said Branson.

Doctors have to start by looking for the most serious possibilities with brain scans, brain wave tests and blood work. If there’s no stroke, bleeding, tumor or seizures, then migraine with aura can be diagnosed.

“When you put all the pieces together, migraine is the most common reason to have her problems,” Dr. Kunschner concurs. “Although they are terrifying, anxiety inducing, and frightening at the time, they are absolutely benign and people do extremely well. The likelihood is this will recur, because this is a lifelong condition.”

Branson has been given a migraine medicine called a triptan to take just in case it happens again.

Even though this turned out to be a migraine, which is not life-threatening, there is no way to know that at the time. A transient ischemic attack, or a stroke that quickly resolves, can still be a possibility, and that has to be evaluated immediately.

Having migraine with aura puts someone at a slightly higher risk of stroke, but in her favor, Branson doesn’t smoke, take hormonal birth control or have high blood pressure.

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