Hallucinations of Taste Can Be a Migraine Symptom

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We've talked about auditory hallucinations and olfactory hallucinations as potential symptoms of a migraine attacks. There's evidence that gustatory hallucinations — hallucinations of taste — can also be a migraine symptom.

The Research Poster:

Research Background:

"Though not recognized aura symptoms, we have reported special sensory experiences such as olfactory and auditory hallucinations to be occasionally associated with migraine. Gustatory hallucinations occur with psychiatric diseases and temporal lobe epilepsy, but have rarely been associated with primary headache disorders."

Research Methods:

Researchers reported a case series across two academic headache centers and literature review that included patients who experienced hallucinations of taste in association with their migraine and headache attacks.

Research Results:

  • Gustatory hallucinations were identified in:

  • Eight patients from the literature:

  • seven with migraine

  • one with unspecified chronic daily headache)

  • Four new patients in the headache centers

  • The majority of patients with gustatory hallucinations predominantly had migraine (86 percent).

  • Seventy-five percent were women.

  • The mean age of onset of gustatory hallucinations was 42 years (range: 33-55 years).

  • Gustatory hallucinations occurred:

    • prior to attacks 45 percentof the time,
    • during attacks 22 percent of the time, or
    • both 33 percent of the time.
  • One patient experienced gustatory hallucinations without headache.

  • The duration of the gustatory hallucination ranged from a few minutes to 24 hours (median: 2 hours).

  • All the patients experienced conventionally unpleasant tastes, most commonly a metallic taste.

  • Comorbid depression or anxiety was reported in 33 percent of the patients.

  • None of the patients had a personal or family history of psychosis or epilepsy.

Research Conclusion:

"These patients had gustatory hallucinations, in the absence of epileptic phenomena, cerebral lesions or psychosis. Their exclusive association with headaches and the time course of the symptoms support the hypothesis that the gustatory hallucinations were a part of the index headache disorder. Gustatory auras usually occur in women with migraine, and are typically unpleasant. While visual hallucinations are a common migraine aura, gustatory hallucinations are rare. Spreading depression or hyperexcitability as a migraine trait symptom of the gustatory cortical areas could account for this phenomenon."

Summary and Implications for Patients:

The researchers found that women with migraine experienced gustatory hallucinations most often, but that they're still rare. Since the majority of those who experienced them did so prior to their attacks, these gustatory hallucinations may be a prodrome symptom that can be an early warning sign that a migraine is coming.

Sources:

Grosberg, B.M.; Doyle, S.; Murphy, A.D.; Robbins, M.S. "Gustatory hallucinations in primary headache disorders: 4 new cases and a review of the literature." Research poster. American Headache Society Scientific Meeting. June, 2016.