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Cognitive Impairment & Other Strange Migraine Symptoms

Pain is an obvious symptom of migraine, but there’s so much more to migraine than the headache. Even the well-known symptoms like nausea, vomiting, sensitivity to light and sound, and sometimes aura barely scratch the surface.

Right now I’m in the early stages of a migraine. Although I can feel the pain coming on, more frustrating is that I’m having trouble thinking, concentrating and finding words. I’m fatigued and thirsty. The black circles under my eyes have returned. Eating might make me feel better, but I’m nauseated, have no appetite and the smell of food turns my stomach.

My current symptoms are part of the many different migraine symptoms. I now know what to expect, but I was terrified when I first noticed all these strange feelings I had before and during a migraine. Cognitive impairment was by far the scariest (and it still frustrates me to no end).

My mind is so fuzzy that I can’t make sense of the rest of the post. I’ll return to the topic next week. In the meantime, here are some relevant links that I intend to use as support.

21 Responses to Cognitive Impairment & Other Strange Migraine Symptoms

  1. Christina P says:

    OTOH….

    http://www.neurology.org/cgi/content/abstract/59/6/904

    This states that in a study of migraineurs at age 26 who had been diagnosed in childhood, some as early as age 3, there were “subtle but significant” cognitive differences from indivuiduals with tension-type headache.

    It may depend on age at onset.

    There is also an interesting study recently done that showed that migraine sufferers overestimate their cognitive abilities during an attack–particularly in the early phases. I could probably find the link if I didn’t have a stooopid MIGRAINE.

    *********
    That’s fascinating.

    Kerrie

  2. Only recently were the massive headaches I have been having diagnosed as migraines, but I think that’s because I used to only get them about once every six months or so. Recently I’ve gotten two or three a month.

    A few weekends ago, I was attending a conference when a migraine set in and I found myself with cotton mouth — I COULD NOT DRINK ENOUGH WATER!

    And since I had to (at least try to) pay attention during the sessions, I found myself doing weird, distracting movements to try and give my mind a distraction so that it could focus on the speaker and not the pain. It was almost like these were forced ticks and twitches.

    But I paid a huge price… it was by far the worst headache I ever had and it lasted longer than any before.

    =daniel

    PS I’m 36.

    *********
    I’m sorry you had such a bad one. Interesting about the twitches. I’m curious to know if they continue or were just that one time.

    Kerrie

  3. deborah says:

    very interesting data, kerrie. i must add, as i had been a pt in one such hosp, and it wasn’t a positive outcome, i find a lot of the lit. they put out there, is dead-on. however, there is still some arguing to be done as far as ‘cognitive and memory’ are concerned; as to returning or diminishing, in my case, i’ve been experiencing this garbage of migraine since i was a little kid, like 5, the older i get, the harder they come, and i’m telling you, my memory and my cognitive skills are definitely NOT what they used to be.

    thank you for the information.

    *********
    Thanks for the input. I try to ignore that the cognitive effects may last beyond the migraine. I just don’t want to believe it!!

    Kerrie

  4. Christina P says:

    Note to self: do not post with a migraine.

    See? I thought I had better cognitive skills than I obviously had, because my comments were not terribly clear. What it should say is that there were “subtle but significant” cognitive differences in migraine sufferers as compared to individuals with tension-type headaches.

    I also wanted to challenge the statement that triptans reverse the cognitive difficulties. I’d really like to see hard data on this–like neuropsychological testing data, and not patient self-report, because when I posted last night I was pain-free post-triptan, and I was CLEARLY not 100% cognitively.

    In any case, since when was serotonin the only player in cognition? Dopamine, acetylcholine, norepinephrine…and you just never do know what all that glutamine is doing.

    I agree–the jury’s not in. Which is why I feel so very strongly about prevention. If we can decrease the overall lifetime burden of migraine attacks, maybe, just maybe, we can prevent whatever it is that happens to brain to cause the “subtle but significant” cognitive differences–and any other brain changes that might result.

    **********
    I hadn’t thought of prevention in that way — only in terms of reducing the frequency of migraines.

    Thanks for the kick in the pants to try some new preventives! (And I’m seeing a sleep specialist tomorrow.)

    Kerrie

  5. Brenda says:

    I have stood at an ATM machine and not known where to put my debit card or what else to do to retrieve money or I can’t remember how to turn the phone off or the computer on and sometimes I don’t know how to spell even the simplest words. And insurance still says there is nothing wrong with me.

    ********
    That’s the rub. And you know that insurance companies will be the last ones to recognize all these other symptoms!

    Kerrie

  6. Donna M. says:

    I have had migraines since I was 13, and now I’m 59. Yesterday I had a migraine. Today, for the very first time, I went to work and could not function. I tried to read my emails and couldn’t make sense of them. I got panicky, and called my doctor. When I got home to wait for my appt. my partner looked up migraines and found that cognitive difficulties can be an after effect of migraines. I called my doctor’s office and her nurse confirmed that, so I cancelled the appointment. I’m still reeling from the fact that this is the very first time in all these years that I have had noticeable cognitive problems after a migraine. It was so marked and I’m trying to chill — and hoping that this pain I feel is not the onset of another one!

  7. Diana says:

    I have migraine sans pain. At least not the debilitating kind of heard about. Thank the Lord for that small favor. I started with a simple aura at age 31. At 45 I had deep vein thrombosis. Seems that set the trigger off in my head that something was wrong and to set off neural signals in my brain. Now 53 and menopausal I have “aura” symptoms every day, sometimes more than once a day. This can consist of cognitive difficulties (certainly can relate to not know how to operate my computer!), scintillating scotoma, blind spots, after images, various pains throughout my body, numbness, weakness, tingling. Had one doc prescribe anti-anxiety medicine. He kept asking me how things were at home. Good, doc, good. It’s my head that’s scrambled, not my life. Hoping this daily bit ceases or at least lessens once I’m past the big “M”.

  8. Chuck says:

    I never had a migraine until I was 34. The first one did not affect me with pain, but it affected my speech center. More specificaly, I could not read words out loud. Each time I did, the words would come out sounding like I was speaking another language. Although that has never happened again, I still have migraines that seem to affect my speech center. Yesterday, I noticed that I could not spell! Simple words like “try” and “soon.” That was when I realized that another migraine was on the way. I hurried to send off a few emails before I laid down to rest. Today, after being incapacitated all day yesterday, those couple of emails are really funny. Even though I knew that I needed to be “extra careful with my spelling”, the emails are still funny. Although, the word processor made sure that none of the words were misspelled, I used the wrong words! I am worried that my migraines are getting worse. I don’t want to take pills everyday, but I’m afraid of the alternative.

  9. Mariann says:

    Wow…I am so glad I came here and read these things. I went to the Emergency Room back in December 2008 because I felt “weird” on the left side of my body and my words weren’t right…so I figured I was having a stroke.

    They did all their tests – in fact I was in there for five days while they did a whole lot of other tests – and everything was normal…so it was ruled as a TIA. I had one neurologist come in and say “well, it might have been a migraine instead of a TIA” and left. I didn’t think too much of this because I was not prone to having migraines. I am 48, by the way.

    Well, the numbness on the left side comes and goes and facial numbness on one side always makes me run to the mirror and see if my smile is symmetrical and I do the touch my nose with my eyes closed and everything – and everything is always normal. So – since I also have heart problems – and I’m extremely worried I’m going to die any moment – I went to the neurologist the other day and he stated given my “ice-pick stabbing headache” and the numbness I feel I probably am experiencing something called a “hemiplegic migraine”.

    But while I am okay with that – and I’m not scared to death each time I get numbness – I started getting another symptom: I type funny. I will type other words and will get hung up on the easiest word to type – words you don’t have to think when you type as they come automatic…and I’ve also said words like “I’m not doing this on person…” instead of “I’m not doing this on purpose…” It is so incredibly scary. And I’m so afraid to Google as I WILL find something leading to death in three clicks or less.

    So, I’m glad I noticed others have the “spelled funny” words. I thought I was having Alzheimer’s in the early stages (my concentration and thinking processes aren’t normal either) – or I thought I was having Mad Cow Disease. And a few others thrown in for good measure…even tho the neurologist told me I was not.

    But the new symptoms with the words are very disconcerting. I phoned my regular doctor up a couple hours ago and she said she didn’t think I was having a stroke – but to call the neurologist to tell him about my new problem.

    I swear the longer I live – the more things start breaking down. I’m like a car with 250,000 miles on it. Sigh…

  10. Kris says:

    I am reading this site as I have gotten tired of wondering why my head is funny – even though I know it’s 99% likely associated with my migraine syndrome. Like Diana, I have “classic migraine” symptoms that occur several times a day but rarely with debilitating pain: blind spots (my most common complaint), flashing lights, inability to read/type accurately (I apologise here for any typos as I am currently in an episode – hence the web search) and of course the other cognitive issues most have raised here. What a relief to know I’m not alone, that it is part of the migraine syndrome, and that it’s likely I won’t have some traumatic brain incident before I finish this paragraph.

    Now for the pressing questions – does it get better, remain the same, or worsen with time? Or is this yet another of the migraine mysteries I must live through to find the answer? I started having severe migraines with pain when I was 13 and as I got older the auras remained but the pain dimished (thank heavens!). Only recently have I had the marked decline in cognitive behaviour and it is now impacting my job on an almost daily basis.

    Final question – has anyone had botox treatments and do they help with the auras or just the pain?

  11. Diana says:

    Having had another episode last Sunday of more strange symptoms, I did a search and found this site again. Reading the comments I found one I made from two years ago. Wow.

    My symptoms have become more varied over the past two years. It think the “brain storm” moves over different areas of my brain and thus causes different symptoms.

    The recent episode is a day of recurring “dream-like” occurrences. Daytime dreaming. What fun. Not. It is either accompanied by nausea or euphoria and last 5-10 minutes every few hours. There is also sometimes something like amnesia that goes with this type episode.

    I have found that magnesium is helpful in reducing the number of migraine aura. I can go for nearly a week without one now. Also, a couple of baby aspirin taken at the first episode usually will lessen the number of episodes in a day.

    Kris, I haven’t done Botox or any of the prescription drugs for migraine.

    I’m sure I’ll be back here eventually to read about others’ experiences.

  12. Jodi says:

    I have had a history of migraines for a number of years, but sought medical treatment only periodically. I am now 51, post-menopausal, and have had some very concerning migraine symptoms that sent me running to my primary care physician, then to a local neurologist, then finally, to one who specializes in the treatment of migraines.
    These newest series of migraines are not the most painful ones I’ve ever experienced, but have been accompanied by scary cognitive impairments that interfere with my job, and with my daily life. I once ran a traffic light that was clearly red, causing an accident, and have been unable to read orally the words from a page in when I could see them and think them, but something altogether different came out of my mouth. Not good for a first grade teacher! These experiences were while suffering rather routine migraine episodes.
    I honestly believed that I may be suffering from ealy onset demtia, and was relieved when the specialist assured me that my experiences indicated complex migraines, and that my symptoms were simply another kind of migraine aura. I began treatment, and have far fewer migraines. I am not particularly happy with the side effects of the medication, but for the most part, things are better, and I not longer worry that I am losing the ability to think clearly. At least I am not a danger to others on the highway!

  13. Suzi says:

    I’m a 51 year old female who has had monthly “menstrual” migraines since the onset of my period at age 14. I got used to having 2 or 3 a month, but when I hit my mid-40s I also began to have migraines triggered by specific foods and SMELLS. No visual auras, but any perfume and a migraine hits within seconds.

    It’s like a switch flipped in my brain, and now I smell things so much more keenly than ever in my life. It nearly makes me housebound at times. I have to carry coffee beans (to quickly mask any perfume I encounter) and a carbon filter mask to wear when it gets really bad. I can’t shop in department stores or places like Bed, Bath and Beyond. Elevators are a particular nightmare for me; when a previous or current occupant is wearing perfume, I’m in trouble. There are times when I just want the rest of the world to go away and stop smelling like a mix of 14 different flowers mixed with civet all at once.

    And then the cognitive symptoms — they are so scary. Any idea what it’s like to find yourself standing in a drug store, and you can’t remember why your looking at the products on a shelf? Or to find yourself relating in great detail a wonderful story only to realize you have no idea why you were telling the story? Ever find yourself in the middle of a sentence and see the look of puzzlement cross your listener’s face and then have them tell you that you used the world organic when you meant to say organism and you KNEW you were saying organism?

    And then you sit in the neurologist’s office and they say, “Oh it’s nothing — it’s just the migraine.”

    The preventatives don’t work for me, or the side effects are so debilitating that I can’t take them. The sumatriptans work but are so harsh but rebound for me if I use more than a couple a month. The narcotics work, but doctors don’t want want to prescribe them. So i alternate the two, juggling in hopes of dealing with the pain while avoiding rebound headaches from the medications.

    I’ve never met or talked to anyone else who has the smell-triggered migraine type. Sometimes I think if I could just talk to someone else who knows what this is like, I wouldn’t feel so much like a freak — anybody out there?

  14. Natja K. says:

    I have suffered two Ocular migraines without headache. The first was 9 months ago and it was extreme with harsh colored jiggling, slowly spinning like shards of color and a blind spot in the middle. This was in my left eye and lasted 45 minutes. I felt fine afterward but within hours I began to feel weird and groggy. I woke the next day feeling very spacey, disconnected and dopey like I was drugged on something. These symptoms lasted 24 hours a day for nearly 2 weeks then gradually I recovered over the next week.

    A friend who also suffers them suggested I might have an overgrowth of candida and I went on a cleanse, acidophilous capsules, and diet change for candida. I started all this 4 days after the day the aura happened. And I felt even worse for about 2 weeks. I then felt better than I had since I was a teenager and remained feeling great for nearly 9 months.

    About 3 weeks ago I went back on the diet and cleanse because I still had problems with my intestines and thought maybe I didn’t get rid of all the candida if in fact I ever had the problem. About 10 days into the cleanse(20 days ago) I suffered another visual migraine, again with no headache. This episode was much milder, was in the left eye again, and color and size were less pronounced. I remained calm, laid back and just tried to watch a movie as it passed. It only lasted about half as long (20 min.) after which I felt just fine.

    The next day I awoke feeling once again, spacey, tired, mentally drained, like I was drugged or sort of like my brain was mildly damaged. These symptoms have continued for about 12 days now. I have always taken a solid vitamin regimen, work out twice per week doing aroebics, sauna, jacuzzi and steam, and also sometimes Tai-chi and yoga. Over the past 12 days I have tried all of these things and nothing even phases the symptoms.And despite the fact that the aura was much milder than the first episode I feel worse than I did after the first episode. I mean like my brain is damaged. Just feel very very weird all the time.

    Anyone have anything like this? Feeling truly brain burnt for weeks after a visual migraine with or without headache?

  15. Casey says:

    I have had migraines since I was a kid. Pretty straight forward when I was younger. As long as I take a large dose of ibuprofen at the first signs of aura, my headache will be tolerable. As I have gotten older (now 37) I have gotten migraines more often. Some months I may get six, others 3, sometimes none. I can’t figure any rhyme or reason to it. Some times I get a migraine on and off all week–never really surfacing, just back there a little slightly affecting everything, and yes sometimes I feel fried for about 48 hours after a migraine.
    In the last year, my onset symptoms are getting strange. I wanted to ask if anyone else has felt these things when they are getting a migraine: A couple different times, while out in public and getting a migraine, everybody’s face was familiar. Everywhere I turned I looked and thought ‘where do I know her from’, or ‘oh yeah, I know him from somewhere’, but I didn’t know any of them, and my wife didn’t know anyone either!

    Another feeling I get is a thought trying to come to the surface. It’s a feeling like something being on the tip of your tongue but you can’t get it out. It just hovers there and the feeling can drive you crazy!!

    One time, I remembered what I thought were some of my dreams. They were very simple and stupid, but it was like some part of my mind just unlocked, and I could remember. I should of wrote them down, because I can’t now!

    I have a lot more loss of the cognitive before during and after my migraine than when I was young, but the pain is much less now, and often I don’t need ibuprofen, I just ignore the loss of vision, speech, and fried feeling and trudge on.

  16. Jenny says:

    Hello there,

    I am not a migraine sufferer myself, but my roommate is. She doesn’t know all of her triggers, but some include smell, dehydration, and coldness (which leads to tight muscles in her neck). During a migraine, she has no appetite, is light and odor sensitive, heat sensitive, and at times visually impaired. She is only twenty now, and began having severe and frequent episodes when I met her at age 17. Since then she has taken numerous strong medications to help the pain. These include but are not limited too beta blockers and maxalt. I honestly stopped keeping track of everything she had, I just know where she keeps the stuff in case she has a reaction to it. She has success with meds at first, and then they stop being effective and she is prescribed with something newer and stronger. Her latest was some injection which she eventually had to detox from. So with all that background information, here is my question: Can someone have permanent cognitive damage do to migraine + harsh medication? I have a few reasons for asking. The first is that my sister, as someone who is bi-polar, has also been taking strong medications (right now she is on lithium), and there has been a noticeable effect on her cognitive function as well as her personality. Having seen this road traveled before, I believe I am witnessing the same thing in my roommate. Is this possible?

  17. Mizzy says:

    This is such a relief reading other people’s symptoms.

    I am 36. I used to have hormonal migraines, several times a year.

    Recently, after starting Depo Provera, they have become more frequent, and included cognitive issues. I have almost caused car accidents, gotten lost in my own house, and had short term memory problems (i.e. having a shower, and halfway through I can’t remember what i washed)

    It will start off with light sensitivity, then get worse. Caffeine helps with the pain a little. Nausea is occasional.

    Like others, I feel dazed, tired & groggy afterwards. I no longer drive when I am light sensitive.

    I am going to the Dr this Friday to see what she recommends. I’m going to keep an eye on these comments, just in case anybody finds a breakthrough!

  18. Rebecca says:

    WOW I am so thankful to find this website. I have been suffering from migraines since I have been a teenager. The pain was bad but now the crazy side effects…. My sense of smell has increased. I cant be around perfume at all, I cant be around any pets.. each time I smell just about anything I get a migraine. it starts with a pain in my right cheek after smelling the simplest of things then a full blown migraine. Today I feel like I am totally out of it. I can not think clearly feel like crying and just going out of my mind. I can not remember the simplest of things and my head feels like a total fog. Is there anything anyone can do? I take the triptans but nothing is helping this mental block and fog I have been experiencing. I also notice an increase of “floaters”. This is to much to handle. I have been to dr after dr and nobody can help prevent these. I was given topamax,wellbutrin, zoloft, celexa, cymbalta all at diferent times and combos to help – is there any hope? Even herbal remedies are not helping anymore and my migraines seem to be getting worse. not to mention the Tripans side effects are stroke on top of many more.. can anyone offer any hope or suggestions please.

  19. Roni says:

    I am so happy that I stumbled onto this site! First I will appoligize up front if I type something that does not make sense or is spelled incorrectly! I have been sufferring from migraines for about 15 years now and they are getting worse. I have severe ones 3-4 times a week and some kind of pain in my head on a daily basis. I am best friends with my recliner! I have seen a neurologist for the past 10 years and have what feels like every medication know to mankind. I take Topamax twice I day to try and slow them down and then have a lovely mix of meds to take at onset and an injector pen but there are some that none of the meds even begin to touch. I have seen that several of you have the sensitivity to smells I also have that. I have an extremly high sense of smell – I often ask my husband do you smell that and he looks at me like uh no but believe me there is a smell there in may be from the house next door but I can smell it! And sound I can hear every little sound and they are so loud! I also have problems with temperatures with I haven’t seen anyone else have problems with. Changes in the weather are one of my nightmares and I live in PA so we can be 70 one day and drop to 30 the next and my head goes crazy! I also get the constant stuffy nose which I didn’t see anyone else mention – it is horrible! I am currently undergoing neuropsychological testing because I swear I am losing my mind and believe me like everything else I have no idea where I put it! I have lost so many things in my own house it is like a treasure hunt. I put them away thinking oh this is a great place I will remember that I put it here only to go back to get ia and I have no clue where I put it! Speech is also a very difficult thing! I freeze when people ask me question or I spit out the wrong word or can’t get the word out all or say something stupid and I have an MBA so how stupid do I really look?! The other day someone asked me my zip code and I spit out some random list of numbers that made no sense at all and the cashier looked at me like I had three heads. I wash the same load of clothes over and over again because I forgot I washed them and leave them in the washer only to go to the laundry room and find them sitting in the washer! People will comment on something I am wearing and I leave the conversation not able to remember if I told them Thank You or not! I went to the bank to take money out and the bank teller insisted that I had no money in my account and I knew my husband just got paid so I was so upset and was causing a bit of a scene wanting to know what happened to his pay check – stood there for about five minutes questioning the teller on what the bank did with my husband’s check and our savings before I realized I was at the wrong bank! My daughter is 8 and in the 3rd grade I have had trouble doing simple multiplcation with her, starting story problems, could not name shapes she had on a shape page other than the one that looked like a stop sign. My list could go on and on about the cognative skills that I am losing. I finally wrote my neurologist a letter because in my appointments he would ask how I was doing I would tell him how bad the migraines are how often they happen the fact that my memory is oh and my balance an the fact that I drop things all the time I can be walking and trip over nothing or have to grap on to a railing because I lose my balance going up a flight of stairs or I take a step and it ilike I am doing a little dance where I lift one leg to steady myself. I drop things all the time my hands just open up when I am holding things. I have no chance with zippers, buttons and things that need fine motor skills. Finally after I wrote the letter to my doctor he ordered the neuropsych testing to see how cognative skills are being affected. I can tell him how they are being affected – It is getting very difficult to function!! Some days I feel so tired, others I think am I going crazy is this early onset of dementia – oh I am 41 by the way – there is a history of it in my family so I have been so worried about that, is it early onset Altzhemier’s – how far is this going to go -what about my 8 year old do I need to start planning because I am not going to remember things in a few more years?!?1 It is so frustrating and scary but I am so glad to see that I am not alone – while I am not happy to see that others are going through this either at least I know that this is not happening to just me!

  20. eve olivet says:

    So glad to hear I’m not the only one having cognitive difficulties after a migraine. I have been having migraines since i was 7 years old, I’m now 43. My migraines used to start with flashing lights followed by tunnel vision. I would then get one almighty headache, sometimes the pain made me vommit. Now all of a sudden the migraines have changed. I begin by feeling sick which seems to last around an hour. I get the vision disturbance, but not the flashing lights and zigzag lines. It seems as though im looking through the lenses of someone elses glasses. This will last anything from thirty minutes to an hour. There is no real headache,
    just nausea. This lasts indefinitely and the following day i feel exhausted and spaced out and unable to
    to function. Each time this happens i feel as though ive had a mini stroke. I find it difficult to talk and am
    sure the muscles around my mouth have weakened.
    for a day or two, i don’t like talking to anyone because all my words come out wrong and i cannot think straight. I wont drive afterwards because i do not feel safe, the migraine makes me feel groggy and unable think clearly.
    Has anyone else felt like this❓

    • Eve, it’s possible to have a migraine without any head pain. Migraine preventives can help avoid those attacks, just as they would migraines with head pain. Acute migraine treatments can also stop the individual attacks (whether they include head pain or not). Nausea and vomiting are common symptoms of migraine unrelated to the head pain, so it’s not surprising that you’ve had both. Please talk to your doctor for treatment advice.

      Take care,
      Kerrie

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