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March 11, 2011, last updated January 10, 2013
By Louise Carr, Associate Editor and Featured Columnist
Have a splitting headache that feels unlike any other? Do
people say your crippling migraine is “just a headache”
when you know the pain and discomfort adds up to much
more than that? Should you panic when your migraine
comes with an additional set of worrying symptoms? Over
36 million Americans suffer from migraines each year,
according to the American Migraine Association. That’s one
in every four households with a migraine sufferer. The type
of sufferer varies from working mom to teenage athlete,
just as the type of migraine varies.
But a complex migraine is quite different. A complex
migraine is a severe headache coupled with neurological
symptoms such as loss of vision and weakness. The
American Headache Society says one in five migraine
sufferers experience these neurological symptoms, or
“auras”, before, during or after a migraine.
How do you know if you suffer from complex migraines?
How can you help prevent these severe headaches? What
natural remedies and lifestyle changes reduce the power of
Complex Migraine Mimics a Stroke
Complex migraine is much more than a headache – in fact,
complex migraine produces stroke-like symptoms according
Did you see Serene Branson, the news reporter at February
2011’s Grammy Awards who suddenly slurred and
stuttered her speech during the live broadcast? She is said
to have suffered a complex migraine, according to
Branson's physician, UCLA Chief of Neurosurgery Neil
Martin, MD. Difficulty speaking, difficulty seeing and
weakness in one side of the body is often mistaken for a
stroke. However, a complex migraine is not a stroke and
the neurological symptoms usually go away. Do you suffer
from complex migraines? How can you help prevent these
severe headaches? What natural remedies and lifestyle
changes reduce the power of complex migraine?
What are the Causes of Complex Migraines?
Complex migraines are caused by the same factors as other
types of migraine. The splitting headache comes, experts
believe, from blood vessels in the brain that suddenly
narrow then dilate. When the blood vessels narrow
abruptly, the brain may not be getting enough blood, which
would account for the stroke-like symptoms. When the
blood vessels dilate, the headache attacks. The blood flow
is not permanently blocked, however, so the symptoms of
stroke are temporary.
Like other types of migraines, complex migraines occur in 4
phases: prodrome (the phase before pain occurs), pain,
aura and postdrome. The prodrome phase can last an hour
up to over 9 hours. In one 2004 study from the Headache
Center of Atlanta, 32.9% of migraine sufferers reported a
prodrome phase lasting an average of 9.4 hours.
Symptoms included tiredness, mood changes and
Other experts point to the role of dopamine and serotonin
(neurotransmitters) that cause blood vessels in the brain to
act abnormally if there is an unusual amount of the
chemicals or the blood vessels are particularly sensitive to
Migraines, and complex migraines, can be triggered by
certain foods, chemicals or activities. Everyone is different
– while your personal trigger could be chocolate or cheese,
another’s weak spot may be smoking or alcohol.
Who Suffers from Complex Migraine?
It seems women more than men suffer from complex
migraine - three times more according to the American
Migraine Association. According to Robert Cowan, MD, at
the Huntington Memorial Hospital, migraines affect 17
percent of females and six percent of males in the United
States and white women have the highest frequency of
migraines. Migraines, and complex migraines, can affect
anyone, at any age.
In fact, a 2012 study from the Griffin Health Institute of
Griffin University in Australia led by Dr. S. Stuart has
theorized that women have a higher incidence of migraines
than men because of a dysfunction in the mitochondrial
DNA inherited from our mothers' side.]
Are Complex Migraines Dangerous?
Apart from causing pain and disrupting your life, could
complex migraines be the sign of something serious?
According to experts, complex migraines may suggest an
increased risk of stroke further down the line. If the blood
flow is blocked for too long, stroke is a real danger. A 1990
study of complex migraine by the Servicio de Neurología,
Hospital Clínico Universitario de San Carlos, Madrid reports
the association between migraine and stroke is well known
– 15 percent of strokes in people aged under 45 were due
to migraine. And a 1999 study from the Imperial College
School of Medicine, London found migraines in adult
women significantly increased the chance of ischemic but
not hemorrhagic stroke. This, however, could also be due
to the accumulated factors of oral contraceptives, high
blood pressure and smoking.
Complex migraines can also be dangerous when weakness
and vision problems affect you when you are driving, or
using power tools.
How can you stop complex migraine from crippling your
life? Which natural remedies help prevent and reduce
migraines? We’ve scoured the scientific literature for the
best ways to stop a complex migraine in its tracks.
Top 10 Natural Remedies for Complex Migraine
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|Add magnesium-rich zucchinis to your diet to fight migraines.