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What Does Hemiplegic Migraine Feel Like? 16 Symptoms

What Does Hemiplegic Migraine Feel Like
Hemiplegic migraine is a rare type of migraine characterized by weakness on one side of the body accompanied by a migraine headache

Hemiplegic migraine is a rare type of migraine characterized by weakness on one side of the body accompanied by a migraine headache. Symptoms of hemiplegic migraine mimic those of a stroke, and the muscle weakness can feel so severe that it causes temporary paralysis on the affected side of the body.

While symptoms vary from person to person, associated weakness typically begins in the hands and spreads to the arm and face. In most cases, the weakness subsides within a few hours. In other cases, however, the weakness may last for several days or even weaks.

16 symptoms of a hemiplegic migraine

Hemiplegic migraine symptoms may include:

  1. Severe pain on one side of the head
  2. Unilateral weakness, which may be mild and partial (hemiparesis) or severe and complete (hemiplegia)
  3. Tingling and numbness
  4. Dizziness or vertigo
  5. Loss of balance and coordination
  6. Speech disturbances such as slurring
  7. Vision disturbances such as zigzag lines, flashing lights, blurred vision, double vision, or blind spots
  8. Temporary memory loss
  9. Confusion
  10. Increased sensitivity to light and sounds
  11. Seizures
  12. Loss of consciousness
  13. Personality changes
  14. Fever
  15. Lethargy
  16. Coma (rare)

Headache associated with hemiplegic migraine may start shortly before, during, or after the onset of weakness. In some people, hemiplegic migraine attacks can cause lasting cognitive issues.

What are two types of hemiplegic migraine?

1. Sporadic hemiplegic migraine

Sporadic hemiplegic migraine refers to a type of hemiplegic migraine that affects people who have no family history of the condition.

The exact cause of sporadic hemiplegic migraine is unknown; however, some studies suggest that genetic mutations may be a contributing factor. These genetic mutations could arise independently in the person or could be inherited from an asymptomatic parent. ATP1A2 and CACNA1A gene mutations have been found in such cases. These genes are responsible for communication between neurons or nerve cells in the brain. Many people with sporadic hemiplegic migraine may not have gene mutations in any of the known genes.

2. Familial hemiplegic migraine

Familial hemiplegic migraine is caused by genetic mutations that run in the family and occurs in people who have a parent, grandparent, or sibling with the condition. Three types of genetic abnormalities are associated with familial hemiplegic migraine:

  • Type I is caused by variations in the CACNA1A gene. 
  • Type II is caused by ATP1A2 gene variations. 
  • Type III is caused by abnormalities in the SCN1A gene. 

These genes are responsible for producing proteins required for normal neuron functioning. The affected individual, whether male or female, has a 50% chance of passing the condition to their offspring, regardless of sex (autosomal dominant condition).

What triggers hemiplegic migraine?

Hemiplegic migraine can be triggered by several factors, including:

  • Stress
  • Strong smells
  • Bright lights
  • Loud sounds
  • Sleep deprivation or too much sleep
  • Physical exertion or exercise
  • Head injury
  • Certain foods such as aged cheese, chocolate, pickles, nuts, and olives
  • Alcohol
  • Cerebral angiography (an imaging test to assess the health and functioning of blood vessels in the brain)
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