April 12th, 2011

planet

brain & migraine notes

So I've been reading this book about brain development and it's absolutely fascinating, I'll have to write up a big review sometime. But this week I'm in the chapter about verbal development. A lot of what we know about any brain development has come from lessons from people with disorders... ie, when someone can't talk, we see what part of their brain is different from everyone else's.

Communication and verbal disorders have always been an interest to me because I sometimes get migraines, and the migraines frequently screw up my ability to communicate.

It's very alarming. It doesn't happen often. I've had maybe a half dozen or so migraines in my entire life, but the first really bad one I had was so scary my doctor had me sent in for stroke testing. That was before I even knew they were migraines. I wasn't getting headaches. Just visual auras, followed by numbness and this speech issue.

What happens is I lose my ability to write and speak coherently. I can still comprehend what's going on, which makes it all scarier because I know I've lost something. I remember sitting in the waiting room at immediate care, seeing a sign that said something like "Patients must show insurance cards" and I opened my purse and took out my insurance card. But I couldn't tell you what the sign said. I couldn't read it allowed, none of the words seemed to stand out on their own. Another time, I remember knocking over a glass of water on the floor and I knew that I should say something about needing a towel to dry it up, but as I stared at it none of the right words came to my head. Like, I wanted to say "fish".

When this happens I type like a drunk person, none of the letters are right and I know they're not right but I can't fix it. If I can write at all, it's like I'm using my left hand. I wrote that my hands were "nubm" instead of "numb" to tell a coworker I needed help.

But back to the brain.

Visual auras mean you see sparkly colors on one side of your vision.

What I think I get: Dysphasic Aura, which leads to a milder, temporary form of Apraxia of speech. It turns out it's not an inability to communicate at all, it's a motor problem. I can't make my mouth or hands make words. It has to do with one part of the brain, Broca's area, in the left frontal lobe. It's named for a doctor who dealt with patients who couldn't speak. They were intelligent and able-bodied but could only speak in a few syllables... one patient could only say "tan" over and over with inflections and gestures, wanting to talk.

Anyway just hearing that these patients were smart people with motor issues makes me feel a little better about my own brain, and the fact that the migraines aren't making me dumber. The feeling that you're going crazy is a very unpleasant one. I couldn't tell from the experience that it was a motor issue, it was like I'd lost all my communication pathways. But it turns out communication involves lots of different parts of the brain... vocabulary is handled by one part, grammar another, hearing and vision have their own cells. Each part is special, but only does a piece of the task.

I guess all this is just fun trivia because my issue is temporary and diagnosed, now days I just pop a maxalt and I'm back in 60 seconds. Any more I can take one when I start seeing visual auras and I'm fine but it's been years since I took one. When I was pregnant I got two or three migraines, I filled my prescription in case I got a migraine at a bad time but then they went away. But I like knowing more about what's going on.