Is this another migraine symptom?
July 12, 2006 9:24 PM   Subscribe

I keep losing sensation in my face; is this a new migraine symptom?

I've had migraines all my life, and a few years ago, my symptoms abruptly shifted from having an hour of awareness before a migraine hits, followed by twelve hours of pain, sensitivities to everything, and visual hallucinations to a new flavor of migraine that can sneak up on me, and includes olfactory hallucinations, confusion, and a sparkly light show.

In the past few months, I've started to get a slow-moving facial numbness- it starts on my eyelids, spreads across my eyes like a mask, then travels down to various isolated spots beside my nose, along my lips, and under my chin.

I think this is just more migraine fun, but I'm not sure. I've googled it, but I can't find anything meaningful. Has anyone else experienced this with their migraines?

I know the answer is "see a doctor" but I can't. When my migraines shifted so abruptly last time, I thought I might be having a stroke. ER visit, follow ups with neurologists and an ophthamologist, plus all the attendant tests- everybody agreed, it was just a different presentation of migraine.

Even with insurance, these bills put me in bankruptcy; unless there's an excellent chance I'm dying, I can't afford to do all of that again just to find out it's another symptom of the same. (However, if there's an excellent chance I'm dying, I can try to get a loan.)
posted by anonymous to Health & Fitness (16 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
I had very similar symptoms and was told by my neurologist that it was probably migraine--but that was after an MRI to rule out anything more serious. I have also experienced "eye migraines" where the vision in my right eye goes wonky and I see sparkling lights and interesting patterns. Oddly enough, I don't have "regular" migraines--so the first time the numbness happened I was sure I was having a stroke or something. I've had the ergonomics guy at the office hook me up with a new chair, keyboard set up, etc. and I have not experienced either kind of migraine since.
posted by agatha_magatha at 9:35 PM on July 12, 2006

The fact that it's moving tends to make me think it's a migraine symptom, as opposed to a tumor or something. Numbness is definitely a possible symptom.

In my worst attack, before I knew what was wrong with me, I started to get one and tried dosing myself with red wine.... which, of course, was the *worst possible treatment*. My entire right side went numb... right side of my face, arms, legs, everything. My parents were away from home that weekend... by the time I realized how bad it was, I couldn't even get to the phone anymore. I finally fell asleep, and was okay when I got up.

While I am definitely not a doctor, your symptoms do sound like a mini version of what happened to me, including the slow spreading. Does it stay all on one side?

I have gotten very few migraines in my older life since I started drinking coffee. I don't know if it will help you, but caffeine intake every day seems to prevent them for me.
posted by Malor at 9:39 PM on July 12, 2006

I have the sparkling lights--lightening streaks across vision, even have had "holes" missing spots in visions [that is some of the freakiest], severe sensitivity to light, nausea and the olfactory stuff. I will say this I havent had the severity of the numbness in the face, youve had, but Ive had an occasional migraine where I felt a numb spot in my face.

This may sound weird but I was able to control my migraines learning to avoid some unusual triggers, I havent had one in some months. This may sound odd, but I learned looking at GRIDS, yes grids--think checker boards and crisscross lines and flashing television--when they show pictures or flash lights in rapid succession such as on commericals or music videos,... and the occasional bright light were triggers. I also have gone off certain medications and foods I know are migraine triggering. I also had a hormonal component to the triggering of my migraines...that women may relate too.
I have cut my migraines by at least 60-70% over the years paying attention to this stuff.

Im not a doctor but I think if you ever CANT SPEAK, or CANT MOVE something you should go to the ER...[those are signs of strokes]
posted by Budge at 9:47 PM on July 12, 2006

See your neurologist, make sure it's nothing new (it's probably not). Learn your new warning signs, if that's what they are, and keep your meds handy.

I also get this weird thing where I get tunnel vision. I can only see about half of what's directly in front of me, and nothing on the periphery. Migraines seem to change or add symptoms at will. Oh joy.
posted by Meep! Eek! at 9:49 PM on July 12, 2006

Speaking as someone who just a month and a half ago was rushed to the emergency room after stroke-like symptoms, given a CT scan and an MRI, told it was just a migraine (the freakiest, most disturbing migraine imaginable that didn't involve a headache), and then received a $13,000 bill in the mail:

Yes. I've had a migraine that involved a moving numbness in the right side of my face that travelled towards my lips. It also involved the sudden inability to speak with the right words, massive blind spots that made it difficult to focus, and general numbness throughout my right arm.

It's horrifying, and not remotely like the headache-based migraines (with aura) I've experienced in the past. The next time it happens, I know I'll be hard-pressed to go back to the ER (even though, if there's a free or pay-what-you-can clinic in the area, it's always good to get it checked out, and it'd be a good plan to research to see if there is that kind of clinic anyway).
posted by I EAT TAPAS at 10:46 PM on July 12, 2006

I just saw a patient in the E/R on Sunday, who had exactly the same new symptom of facial numbness along with his, yes, migraines which he'd had for many years. I told him that it was quite common to have such a thing in migraines.

However, I'd examined him and reviewed his brain CT, which I have not done in your case. Therefore I cannot serve as your doctor nor can this be construed to be medical advice pertinent to you.
posted by ikkyu2 at 12:11 AM on July 13, 2006

Could it be a form of Bell's Palsy?
posted by PenDevil at 12:53 AM on July 13, 2006

I get 2-3 migraines a year and numbness is fairly common for me, sometimes in my face, sometimes in my hands, not necessarily symmetrically. I also get the vision problem sometimes, used to get the flashing lights when I was a teenager - not so much now. Had tunnel vision once, extremely weird and pretty scary. Confusion definitely, I'm always incapable of reading/writing and usually struggle with speaking. Feeling any of there symptoms coming on is for me an indicator to get straight home, take the pills and try to get to sleep asap, thus avoiding as much of the imminent headache and nausea as possible.
posted by biffa at 2:01 AM on July 13, 2006

Just thought I'd add I, too, sometimes get numbness in my face as part of a migraine. It's not as dramatic as yours, though, more like a spot the size of a quarter along my smile line, always on the left side (as are my migraines). My neurologist told me it's fine, though he did do a battery of tests first. He also told me to consider myself lucky, as a good friend of his goes numb all over his left side with migraines, and he gets them more than once a month or so. Yikes!
I hope you find some relief from your headaches. The ones I get with numbness often seem to be triggered by eating MSG or aspartame. I've had some luck controlling them by examining these and other food-related triggers. Good luck.
posted by katie at 6:34 AM on July 13, 2006

One thing about migraines that no one seems to publish is that the symptoms do change as one ages. You didn't mention how old you are, but many who have had them since childhood experience a change in their mid 20's to mid 30's. Don't be surprised if this time of fluctuation doesn't also present new symptoms beyond what you have recently experienced, and don't be surprised if there are more changes in the coming decades.

Your new symptoms are consistent with other migraine sufferers. In fact, some numbness or tightness should be associated with dramatic blood vessel contraction/expansion, particularly in the face.

Different presentation is typical of having different triggers and new triggers can arise as you age. I think of them more like allergies, and find it easier to explain it to others as allergies. I am allergic to NutraSweet/Aspartame/Phenylalanine. That what I tell people, that's what I tell myself.

You mention chance of dying. For what it's worth, everyone who experiences true migraines either thinks about that, or even wishes for it during the most painful part. It sounds to me like you feel very alone in this. Perhaps you might find some comfort and confidence in reading about, and talking with, others who suffer from migraines as well.
posted by kc0dxh at 7:40 AM on July 13, 2006

Although those symptoms could be congruent with a diagnosis of "migraines" they also sound very much like what I experience which is diagnosed as temporal lobe epilepsy. Have you had all the various brain scans in the past or just been given migraine drugs for immediate relief (like maxalt)?

My diagnosis was simple because I had a grand mal seizure at 13, but the majority of my experiences have been either "simple partial" or "complex partial" seizures, which are almost always followed by a migraine. They most commonly involve olfactory hallucination, for me usually a weird flood of nostalgia or 'meaningfulness', and if they are the 'complex' version, a loss of consciousness or a period of confused consciousness. Occasionally I have had visual auras as well.

Anyway, point is, the way my condition was framed, the migraines have always been considered a side effect or after effect of the epilepsy, but you don't have to have a full on tonic clonic seizure to have epilepsy, and if you haven't been given the tests, and perhaps looked into going onto a regular neurologiical medication, that's the avenue I'd look into. Though, rereading your question you say you did talk with a neurologist after the olfactory hallucination/sparkly light show symptoms had presented, which are the ones that I associate most directly with TLE... Have docs tried giving migraine patients epilepsy meds in general? The two conditions seem quite intertwined from my POV. (okay, quick google shows that yes, at least a few anticonvulsants are being used for migraine prevention -)

Trouble with a lot of these symptoms is that it's easy to connect them to terrible deaths or chronic neurological conditions, and that can cause anxiety, which probably doesn't help relieve the symptoms... While what you're experiencing could certainly be another form of migraines, you should not have to accept that you just have to live with it. It's easy to get into a "I can take it" mindset with these things - I have done the same with my 'spells' at many points - but there are meds & pros out there who are attempting to prevent the problem. Don't go to the ER - that's always expensive - but make an appointment with yr neurologist to look into trying a medication. If you have insurance, the co-pay is worth it. Even if it's not a stroke things can get ugly: I had an episode that turned into sleepwalking (which is associated with migraines) and put myself in pretty serious danger. If you are experiencing confused states of consciousness, you owe it to yourself to address it (though i sympathize with the seeming uselessness of talking to specialists and getting nowhere - please feel free to email if you want to talk)
posted by mdn at 8:17 AM on July 13, 2006

Just to mention some things that trigger me also: Tiredness; stress; white bread/cheese; chocolate; very dark overcast weather can sometimes have an effect. When I first started getting them my doctor sent me to have my eyes tested, my eyes where fine but is it worth you asking about whether this is something you should do?
posted by biffa at 8:20 AM on July 13, 2006

Regarding PanDevil's comment: I have a cow orker who had an incident of Bell's Palsy last year and he and I did a good amount of reading up on it. Nowhere did I see any mention of rapid recovery or repeated occurrence.
posted by phearlez at 1:12 PM on July 13, 2006

Sorry to derail, but you might try treating your migraines with magnesium tablets. My husband has found that if he can take a couple when he feels one coming on, he can stop it from happening altogether.
posted by macinchik at 3:00 PM on July 13, 2006

I used to have numbness of my face and hands with migraines, but more recently it's been all about cracked vision and big-ass blind spots. I tend to eat a few Excedrin, drink a couple of pints of water, and lie down and put something over my eyes. After about an hour it just feels like I got kicked in the brain repeatedly, and that's preferable to having my visual cortex do really interesting and impromptu things with my cognition.

(I always close one eye, hoping that it's just my eye, but nope. Brain.)

But seriously, if you can afford it, go see a specialist. There are a lot of treatment options out there. (I'm guessing--I'm uninsured.)
posted by Coda at 4:30 PM on July 13, 2006

I get this from what I'm told is a pinched nerve in my neck. My neck plagues me with problems.
posted by Goofyy at 7:40 AM on July 14, 2006

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