Serene Branson on Migraines and Awareness Month
You may remember CBS reporter Serene Branson's frightening experience with a Migraine earlier this year during coverage of the Grammy Awards. While reporting live, Branson's speech suddenly became unintelligible, fueling speculation that she might have had a stroke. It turned out that she had a Migraine with aura that was widely reported as a "complex" Migraine.
Branson has now partnered with the National Headache Foundation (NHF) for "More Than Just a Headache," a new campaign focused on educating the public on the personal and societal costs of Migraine and providing resources for Migraineurs and their families. The campaign was recently launched to kick off National Migraine Awareness Month.
I recently had the opportunity to speak with Miss Branson and am excited that this delightfully intelligent and enthusiastic young woman is willing to share her personal experience with Migraine with the public and speak out on our behalf. I want to share our conversation with you.
Branson told me that she was hesitant when the NHF approached her about participating in this campaign. She wasn't sure that she wanted to talk about personal health issues publicly, and she's used to reporting the news, not being part of it.
When the reports about her "complex Migraine" came out, some of our readers expressed their confusion because "complex Migraine" isn't a form of Migraine as defined by the International Headache Society in the International Headache Society's International Classification of Headache Disorders, 2nd Edition (ICHD-II), which is the gold standard for diagnosing and classifying Migraine and other headache disorders. I asked Branson if she'd been given a diagnosis other that "complex Migraine." She was - Migraine with aura. In her case, the severe aphasia (trouble speaking) that she experienced led to her Migraine attack being described as "complex."
I asked if she had a history of Migraine before that attack. She told me that she'd had bad headaches with some vision issues and nausea, but had never been diagnosed with Migraine before. Her mother does have a history of Migraines.
I asked, "What do you think it's important for other people with Migraines to remember?" Branson replied,
"There's a reason why the NHF says, 'More than just a headache.' Migraine is a disease that affects more than 30 million in the U.S. People aren't alone. It can be scary. There's a stigma. Symptoms of a Migraine are much more severe than a headache. It's a complicated disease. Migraines can be accompanied by nausea, blurred vision, numbness, and other symptoms."
Another question was, "What would you like the general public to know about Migraines?" Branson told me,
"To employers and families, Migraine is a disease, one of the five most disabling conditions for women in the world. Family, employers, please learn about Migraines. Visit the NHF site. There's lots of information there that employers, families, and the pubic in general should know."
When I asked what we hadn't discussed that Branson would like to tell people, she answered,
"If you have Migraines, you are not alone. There are lot of resources. I'm not the only one suffering. It's not the end of the world. It's manageable. If someone says they have a Migraine, don't brush it off. Take it seriously."
When asked how she's doing with her Migraines now, Branson said that she's,
"Doing well. Working on balancing and recognizing triggers. Making some changes and watching things I know can affect my Migraines - stress level, attitude, caffeine."
When so many news reports were coming out about Branson's Migraine during the Grammy Awards, several people contacted me with similar sentiments -- that they're sorry she has Migraines, but that her having had that Migraine on live television and the reporting about it could help people understand how debilitating Migraines can be, that they're "not just headaches." I have to agree with them, and Miss Branson understood when I told her about those comments. That's one reason she decided to partner with the NHF for the "More Than Just a Headache" campaign, put herself out there, and work to help educate both Migraineurs and the general public.
Welcome to the Migraine family, Miss Branson, and thank you so very much for being open and courageous about sharing your story and working to educate others.
Interview: Teri Robert with Serene Branson. June 7, 2011.
Medical review by John Claude Krusz, PhD, MD