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What is hemiplegic migraine?
Hemiplegic migraine is referred to as a “migraine variant”. The word hemiplegic simply means paralysis on one side of the body. A person with hemiplegic migraine will experience a temporary weakness on one side of their body as part of their migraine attack. This can involve the face, arm or leg and be accompanied by numbness, or pins and needles. If the right side is affected the person may experience speech difficulties, vision problems or confusion. This can be a frightening experience for the individual as these symptoms are similar to those of a stroke. This weakness may last from one hour to several days, but usually it goes within 24 hours. The head pain associated with migraine typically follows the weakness, but the headache may precede it or be absent.
What causes the symptoms of hemiplegic migraine?
To understand this, it is important to look at the mechanism of hemiplegic migraine. The brain and nervous system depend on a combination of electrical and chemical signals to function. When a nerve impulse (electrical) of sufficient strength passes down from one nerve cell towards another, it opens a so-called ‘channel’ which acts like a ‘gate’. This process releases neurotransmitters (or chemical messengers) which contact the neighbouring cells and tell them how to respond. If a channel in the brain is not working properly, neurotransmitters, such as serotonin, may be released in an abnormal way. In the case of hemiplegic migraine, the way the channel dysfunctions is known to have a role in the condition.