Serene Branson had migraine, not mini-stroke

Los Angeles reporter Serene Branson of CBS station KCBS-TV has attracted a lot of attention for her report from the Grammys broadcast last Sunday night, during which her speech became garbled.

What happened to make Branson speak so incomprehensibly?

Many speculated that she'd suffered a mini-stroke, but doctors concluded she actually suffered a severe migraine.

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On "The Early Show," CBS News Medical Correspondent Dr. Jennifer Ashton explained that a migraine aura -- Branson's diagnosis -- can mimic a stroke.

Video Series: Dr. Ashton's Health and Wellness

"There's a list that doctors go through whenever someone presents with symptoms like this," she said. "At the top of that list is always the most serious diagnosis, something that can kill you, so you want to exclude that first. In this case, (the thing to rule out) was a stroke. Next on the list would be something like a seizure, and then migraine with aura or classic or complicated migraine, as the term used to be, is next on that list.

"When I spoke to Serene's doctor yesterday, he told me she had the complete head-to-toe workup, everything was evaluated according to a stroke protocol to exclude a stroke. So, imaging of the brain, ultrasound of the heart and the blood vessels in the neck and the brain, extensive blood tests. Evaluated by a cardiologist, as well as migraine specialists and neurosurgeon. No stone was left unturned and luckily, (they're) 95 percent sure it was not a stroke. More the classic migraine."

"Early Show" co-anchor Erica Hill noted, "(Serene,) you've never had a migraine. But your mother mentioned to you this sounded like something that had happened to her."

Branson said, "Yeah, which was very interesting because, as the doctor pointed out, they can be hereditary. Which I didn't know. And I didn't even know that my mother had suffered from them until after this happened, and she said, 'You know, when I was in my earlier years, I had a few of them.'"

Ashton said migraines can really affect women in their 30s.

"The real key here is the timeline that Serene's symptoms progressed according to, little by little, symptom by symptom, it's called the migraine march. Where as a ... mini-stroke or classic stroke tends to come on like a light switch. That was a big clue. And then her family history: she's a young woman, she's healthy, she doesn't smoke, she's not on any hormones. Her risk factor for a stroke, while not zero, is certainly not as high as, you know, it was for a migraine."

As for future migraines, Ashton said, "We do know that women who have classic migraines or migraines with aura are at higher risk for strokes later on in life, if they smoke, if they take birth control pills and hormones. Those are obviously two things that are in our control to avoid in the future. And hopefully this will be the only one that Serene gets."

Branson, Ashton said, has been given a prescription called Triptan for migraine symptoms.

Ashton said other drugs, such as over-the-counter Coenzyme Q10 and B vitamins can be helpful. She added trying to avoid triggers for migraines is important.

As for Branson, she says she didn't feel like herself again until three days after the episode on-air. "Monday morning, I woke up and I was finally starting to speak normally again," she said. "I could speak Sunday night, about half an hour after the episode. But I still felt groggy, and I spoke to a co-worker Monday morning. I felt hung over the next morning. My head just felt not good, still, for a couple days afterwards."

Branson told Hill she's "a little bit" nervous about going back to work. "I'll admit. It was good to see a lot of my coworkers yesterday, but -- "

Hill said, "You have a lot of support in the office."

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