Vestibular Migraine and Janet Jackson

Medical Author: Benjamin C. Wedro, MD, FAAEM
Medical Editor: Melissa Conrad Stöppler, MD

Imagine standing on stage, the music pulsing, the lights flashing, thousands of people at your feet, and all of a sudden, the world starts to spin and your head throbs. Trying to sing takes second place to trying to stand up straight and not vomit. Imagine being Janet Jackson in the midst of a vestibular migraine.

For many people, migraine equates to a bad headache. But migraines are much more than a lot of pain; they are a set of headaches associated with irritability of blood vessels, and changing blood flow patterns to the brain. The sequence often begins with an aura, a sensory clue that a migraine is about to start. Flashing lights, wavy lines, or funny smells may precede the throbbing headache. The aura occurs as blood vessels to parts of the brain start to constrict and decrease blood flow.

In some people, the blood flow can decrease so much that parts of the brain lose their blood supply and stop functioning. When part of the brain stops functioning, then the part of the body it supplies stops functioning as well. If this sounds like a stroke, it's because it in effect is. Fortunately, as the migraine headache resolves along with the blood flow issues, function returns to the brain and the body. But imagine how frightening this is for the migraine sufferer?