CBS Reporter Serene Branson Had Migraine Aura, Not Stroke: What’s the Difference?

image: CBS

Los Angeles residents who tuned into their local CBS news after last Sunday’s Grammy Awards found themselves watching what appeared to be news correspondent Serene Branson having an on-air stroke. Seconds after picking up a live shot from the red carpet, Branson’s speech became garbled and slurred. Producers quickly cut away from the clearly scared and disoriented reporter to a pre-taped segment, leaving viewers to wonder – what the hell had just happened?

Yesterday, doctors announced that Branson had suffered a migraine aura, not a stroke. UCLA’s Dr. Andrew Charles told the Los Angeles Times that Branson showed signs of dysphasic language dysfunction – “[t]he victim knows what she or he wants to say, ‘but can’t come up with the words’” – as well as blurred vision and numbness of the face.

Branson described her harrowing ordeal to her colleagues, saying, “I was terrified and confused. Confused. What had just happened? At that point they sat me down, then my right cheek went numb. My right hand went numb and I lost some sensation in my arm.”

It’s no wonder that Branson was frightened, considering that strokes – once considered a health risk solely for the elderly – have been on the rise in adults in their 30s and 40s. Rising obesity rates may be a contributing factor, but a stroke could be triggered by anything that hits the vertebral artery the wrong way – even including yoga or rough sex. Liza Gates, the daughter of Harvard professor Henry Louis Gates, Jr., suffered a stroke in her 20s, losing her ability to speak coherently for several months.

So how can you tell whether you’re having a migraine aura or a stroke? Well, for starters, if you exhibit any kind of sudden-onset speech disorder, you should get yourself to a doctor ASAP, as that can signal any number of serious ailments including a stroke, concussion, or brain tumor.

According to the Mayo Clinic, symptoms of a migraine with aura include visual disturbances like “shimmering spots or stars” and “zigzag lines that gradually float across your field of vision,” a feeling of numbness in the extremities, and difficulty speaking. These are usually followed by the onset of a migraine within an hour.

For a stroke, remember the acronym F.A.S.T. to check for early warning signs. F – Is your face or mouth drooping down on one side? A – Can you raise both of your arms? S – Is your speech slurred or jumbled? If the answer is yes to any of those, then the most important letter to remember is T – Time to act fast and get yourself to a hospital immediately, because mere minutes can make a huge difference in terms of how much and how quickly you’re able to recover from a stroke.

As for Serene Branson, well, she’s just ready to get back to work, just in time for the Oscars red carpet. “I’m ready to be telling the story and not be the story,” she told CBS.

Watch the original video of Serene Branson’s migraine aura here:

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    • Lauralee Hensley

      From medical reports I’ve read, she needs to keep in mind for future reference, that migraine sufferers are at a higher risk of stroke.
      Unfortunately I’m a migraine sufferer. I get the aura’s, dizziness, numbness, etc., so you never know.