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CBS reporter Serene Branson suffered 'migraine aura,' doctor says

February 17, 2011|By Thomas H. Maugh II, Los Angeles Times
(Screen grab from www.msnbc.msn.com )

KCBS-TV Channel 2 reporter Serene Branson suffered "migraine aura" when she began speaking what appeared to be gibberish during a live report following the Grammys on Sunday evening, Dr. Andrew Charles, director of UCLA’s Headache Research and Treatment Program, said in an interview Thursday. Some previous reports had indicated she was suffering from "complicated migraine" or "complex migraine." Those are really laymen's terms that have fallen out of favor with physicians, Charles said. "All her symptoms fall within the definition of migraine aura," he said.

Migraine aura typically includes three categories of symptoms: visual, language and sensory.

The best-known symptoms of aura are sparkling lights and zigzag lines surrounding the victim's field of vision. But practically speaking, Charles said, many victims simply have blurring and distortion of vision. "That's what she had."

Language dysfunction is known as dysphasic language dysfunction. The victim knows what she or he wants to say, "but can't come up with the words. Clearly, that's what she was having when she was on the air," he said.

The final set of symptoms are sensory, including numbness and tingling in the face and hands. "She was experiencing that as well."

The first step in diagnosing her problem was making sure she didn't have a stroke or other severe neurological problem. For that, she visited Dr. Neil Martin, chief of neurosurgery at Ronald Reagan UCLA Medical Center, who performed an extensive neurological examination, including an MRI, to look for an interruption of blood flow, swelling, tissue damage or other signs of neurological damage.

Once they ruled out stroke, the next step was to look at her medical history and her family history. It turns out Branson had suffered from migraines as a child, but had never had auras before. "That's typical of migraines," Charles said. "Each attack can be slightly different. Some people have auras only occasionally."

She also had a family history of migraines.

Because Branson's attack appears to be an isolated episode, doctors are unlikely to prescribe drugs to prevent future migraines, although they did advise her about lifestyle changes that may help prevent future attacks. They most likely also provided drugs, such as triptins, that can abort migraines when they do occur. Such drugs do little to stop aura symptoms, however, Charles said.

Charles emphasized that Branson "is completely fine now. She has no residual symptoms. I expect this not to be a significant problem for her moving forward."

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