Thursday, October 23, 2014
Saturday, May 12, 2012 JP, Community Member, asks

Q: What causes aphasia in a migraine attack? The inability to speak or understand words?

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Answers (3)
Nancy Harris Bonk, Community Member
5/15/12 5:01pm

Hi JP,


Aphasia, as you said is the inability or loss to understand words and can be part of the aura phase of a Migraine attack. Anatomy of a Migraine discusses all four phases of a Migraine attack. 


Dr. David Dodick explained aphasia like this:  


         "The cause, we believe, is an underlying hyperexcitability of the brain, particularly involving the neurons and glial cells in the cerebral cortex. This underlying hyperexcitability periodically gives rise to a spreading wave of activity in these cells that travels across the brain at a rate of about 3 millimeters per minute, usually beginning in the occipital cortex, the part of the brain responsible for vision. This is why the symptoms evolve over time, and when tingling occurs, spreads from one body part to another.


Once these neurons discharge, they become exhausted and take some time to recover. The activation of these cells leads to what we call “positive” symptoms — for example, sparks, lights, prisms in the vision and a tingling feeling over the body. When the cells are exhausted and recovering they can’t be activated, and we believe this accounts for the loss of vision, or scotoma, and numbness or loss of sensation that sometimes occurs. This spreading wave is called “spreading cortical depression,” and at this time we believe that this is the cause of the migraine aura. There is a lot of ongoing research to try to understand what starts this wave, how this wave leads to headache, how to prevent the process from starting and how to stop it once it has begun." This is from one of his answers at the NY Times Consult blog.


Does that help?




Northstar, Community Member
5/17/12 1:58am

Im new, above you said aphasia you don't understand words.  ok, I understand words but can't always say them,I know the words are in my head but don't reach the mouth.  When this happens I find other words or ways to make people understand me. I also use sign language but limited. I hope that can help someone. Its frustrating when doctors or other people don't take time to listen.  Sorry if Im in a wrong space. Embarassed

Teri Robert, Health Guide
5/17/12 10:29am



Welcome! No, you're not in a wrong space. Thank you for sharing your experience.


Aphasia affects me much the same way it affects you. I often can't find the right word for what I want to say. It will often hit me in a mild form up to a couple of days before the rest of the Migraine. I'll find myself totally unable to come up with a name I know really well or something like that. When that happens, I know a Migraine is coming. In a way, it's helpful because knowing that a Migraine is coming, I'm ready for it and have meds in my pocket ready to take them no matter where I am or what I'm doing.


Welcome again!


Northstar, Community Member
5/22/12 10:36pm

Thank you so much for being here, all of you (a silver lining).  Has anyone else noticed certain words are a factor to place into a "coming" migraine?  Think about it.  My kids were in single diggets at the time. "spoon, pineapple, fork, some names,Spike, Clock, Thank you, please,".  I would take my meds and try to rest.  My two Lab dogs pick up my seizures type (Im fully aware and can speak through them), migraines sometimes 2-4 hours before they happen. A rescued lab who has died of old age, passed it onto lab #2, within 24hrs Lab #3 a six month old has aquired this blessing for me.  We test how close the migraine is with the above words and the reactions of the dogs. I heard that Medical Assists dogs can be taught at home now and get registered.  How?  

     Keep a check on words you have trouble saying before a migraine, this should give you a bit more of a warning before an attack. Possible.  Lori Smile 

Northstar, Community Member
5/22/12 11:11pm

Hi Teri! and ALL;

     We all I assume carry our migraine meds with us, (sooner the meds maybe  faster relief?).  Due to the lack of being able to communicate, or because Im in the middle of a "flopy" aerobic exercise, (siezure-likeCool) activity. One of the local Rescue Squads at a county fair gave out a red plastic packet for emergencies zip-locks work too.  We have computers, use it.  I made a list of important info, my name addy, relatives, Drs, allergies, medical history, and all trips ERs when where. I also asked my doctor for a script to carry so the ER Dr. knows what to do.  Some ER doctors need more information I made a sheet worth of info and carry it elsewhere.  I have a combination of meds that needs to go through an IV, that is on the ER info sheet (script).

     I have been told many times they (ERs, Drs, rescue squads...) are so thankful that I keep this infor with me. BTW the health care workers know me, mostly to the wrap around dark sunglasses, and so many trips to ER.  I hope that you can write a short ER sheet, it helps me just to hand it over than to get more frustrated talking.  We don't need another thing to upset us. :) Lori

Nancy Harris Bonk, Community Member
5/17/12 6:25pm

Hi Northstar,


No way are you in the wrong spot! In fact you are in the perfect spot and we are so glad you are here!


I'm sure by sharing your story you have already helped someone -  thanks!


We hope to hear more from you,


Tricia, Community Member
5/18/12 2:27pm

One of the first symptoms I noticed (it would take me years to recognize some others) after I was diagnosed with migraine is that I'd "lose my words," as I'd put it. Which is frustrating for a writer! But, weirdly, when I do have to force myself to write during/before a migraine, I tend to get complimented on what I manage to produce. It's like my neurons fire differently, making me more creative. Go figure. I still couldn't tell you my name if you asked me. Laughing

Northstar, Community Member
5/22/12 11:16pm

Thank you! I have never tried to write my "set" of words, or others.  I am trying to find other ways to keep my mind thinking or doing other things, to try and avoid an ER migraine.

Theresa H., Community Member
5/21/12 3:05pm

I often find that before and during a migraine, I have trouble speaking too.  I slurr my words, combine two together, or cannot find the word that I am looking for.

JP, Community Member
6/ 2/12 6:33pm

I lose my ability to speak (jibberish) and can not understand what others are saying to me (sounds like foreign language) as well as get half vision so I can't see well... then the numbness starts on half my body.


It is really frightening because it happens so suddenly (mid sentence) with no warning.  I can't ask for help.


I am so grateful that we now have good migraine meds.  I keep a nasal inhaler with me at all times.  It works quick and doesn't give me that terrible tight feeling in my chest that I got with pills.



Lauraine, Community Member
12/11/13 8:22am

Hello JP

I don't normally have Migraine headaches. However, the other night I had an attack that sounds most similar to yours. That morning I went to an exercise class and 2/3rds through I realised I was very uncoordinated and began to perspire badly. I took myself home. By around 5pm I got a headache in my forehead region. After 3/4 of an hr it hadn't gone so I took 2 Paracetamol tablets which certainly took the edge of the headache. I continued as normal. However, just before 10pm I went onto the computer. I typed 2 lines and realised I couldn't get to grips with what I had written. I called my husband and when he came upstairs I tried to speak to him and realised I could only say some words, then the next section where missing from any part of my memory. I was unable to describe even a shape let alone the word. The right side of my face, my lips and my tongue all went numb. This lasted 10 minutes including a 3 minutes section where the right hand side of 25% of my sight went. When he spoke to me, I could only understand him for a split second and then I forgot what he'd said. After 10 minutes, I could speak and understand again - then I shook all over violently - really scary. My doctor has suggested it was either a TIA (mini stroke) or an unusual migraine. I have had a scan of my neck arteries which where clear, and am awaiting a brain scan. I didn't realise a migraine could do what yours do to you. How often does this happen?. Lauraine

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By JP, Community Member— Last Modified: 12/11/13, First Published: 05/12/12