A hemiplegic migraine is a rare form of migraine that is most often associated with one-sided numbness and paralysis of the head and body. The International Headache Society defines hemiplegic migraine as migraine that fits under the “migraine with aura” category and also has either fully reversible motor weakness, or fully reversible visual, sensory and/or speech/language symptoms.
There are two sub types of hemiplegic migraine: sporadic and familial. Familial hemiplegic migraine is if someone in your family also has hemiplegic migraine and sporadic is if not. Hemiplegic migraines can be difficult to describe. To help people communicate with healthcare professionals and loved ones, I offer the following five ways to describe hemiplegic migraine.
1. “Like having a stroke”
One of the most common descriptions for hemiplegic migraine is “like having a stroke.” This is because of the strong one-sided symptoms that often come with numbness and paralysis. The word hemiplegic comes from the root words “hemi,” which means half, and “plegic,” which means paralyzed. So you could say a hemiplegic migraine is a half-paralyzed migraine.
This is a very accurate description when you consider the similarity to stroke symptoms: speech impediments; paralysis of face, arm, legs, and other body parts; and numbness of head, face, eyes, skin, and body. Any system on the affected side may be experiencing symptoms
2. “A psychedelic trip with the worst hangover”
Many whom experience hemiplegic migraine will also go through a visual aura. These can be small in nature or extremely large and vivid multicolored experiences that resemble a psychedelic trip. The damage that occurs to the brain before a migraine --as well as the massive amount of stress to the body and drain on resources -- is a recipe for an incredible “hangover.” A hangover is basically when our body is tapped for energy and resources. It is sometimes called “lead head.”
We want to support our energy, nutrient, and detoxification systems to take the edge off the hangover by:
Supporting our sleep, creating complete darkness and winding down before bed with no blue light coming from screens.
Having 9-12 cups of non-starchy vegetables with all different colors of the rainbow, as well as some quality grass-fed meat a day.
Going out of our way to support a detox system like soluble fiber for gut, high quality water for kidneys, breathing exercises for lungs, cruciferous vegetables for our liver or sweat for our skin.
3. “As if someone clamped my head in a medieval torture device”
It can be really difficult going through hemiplegia because of the dizziness, sweating, increasing pain, disorientation, slurred speech, nausea and more. These all mean we need to re-hydrate as soon as possible when we are able, and make sure we get electrolytes. It's as simple as adding a little honey, a pinch of sea salt, and a squirt of lemon to a glass of filtered water.
4. “Like I'm dying”
Especially the first few times it happens, feeling like you’re dying is incredibly scary. Ruling out more serious issues like an actual stroke or aneurysm is an absolute necessity. Once you know that it will eventually pass, it takes the edge off the storm.
5. “Screaming for someone to get a gun”
This is probably one of the scariest and most shocking descriptions of hemiplegic migraine, but it does a great job in conveying how painful and terrifying the experience can be. Hair bleeding, drooping face, eyes falling out, and feeling kicked in the head by a mule are all descriptions that often used. One of the most frustrating things for migraine sufferers is that there are few outward signs. The illness is essentially invisible to everyone but the person who experiences it.
Understanding what a migraine sufferer goes through can be one of the most helpful ways to give them the space they need, to not feel judged, and to take the time to heal themselves.