Can numbness in parts of the body be a symptom of migraine?
Numbness is a type of sensory aura in migraine. It comes on gradually and will usually last approximately 60 minutes. Most of the time, it involves the hands, arms, face, and mouth, but at times, it can also involve the entire body.
“Typically, it's what we call cheiro-oral, which means hand and mouth. Most of the time, people will experience numbness or tingling that begins in maybe a couple of fingers, or maybe the digits of the hand, and then it will gradually creep up to involve the hand, and then maybe up to the arm. Then it will jump to the face, and it will be around the mouth. Sometimes it will go inside the mouth and involve the gums and the tongue. Sometimes it will involve the whole body. Unlike a stroke, where you can have a stroke that causes those symptoms too, but usually, it's, ‘Bang!’ It involves all parts of the body at once. With migraine, it gradually evolves over five minutes at least, and then it can last up to an hour or more. But it's very scary for patients, particularly those who have never experienced it before. But even when they have experienced it before, it's still a very unsettling symptom for them.
“Sometimes physicians who don't have a lot of experience in distinguishing stroke from a migraine aura ... this is a sensory aura, it can sometimes lead to them getting treated for a stroke when that's not what they're having. So this evolution and the gradual resolution over the course of five to 60 minutes is usually a telltale sign. When the numbness involves the tongue — I've never seen a patient with a transient ischemic attack, or TIA, or mini-stroke that involves the tongue. That's a telltale sign. As soon as it goes into the tongue, that is most likely migraine.”
Numbness has been found to be a type of sensory aura in migraine. Most of the time, it begins in the fingers and gradually moves through the hands, up the arms, into the face, and at times, into the mouth or throughout the entire body. It differs from the type of numbness experienced in a stroke in that It comes on gradually and will usually be resolved within approximately 60 minutes. Another factor that differentiates the two is that the numbness in migraine can move into the tongue, and it would be an extreme rarity to see tongue numbness in a stroke patient.
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David Dodick, MD
Mayo Clinic, Arizona
David Dodick, M.D., FAAN, is a professor of neurology at the Mayo Clinic College of Medicine and Science in Scottsdale, Arizona. He is the director of the headache program and the sports neurology and concussion program at Mayo Clinic in Arizona. He is an adjunct professor in the department of neurosciences, Norwegian University of Science and Technology. Dr. Dodick is board certified by the Royal College of Physicians and Surgeons of Canada and the American Board of Psychiatry and Neurology (ABPN). He also holds United Council for Neurologic Subspecialties certification in headache medicine and ABPN certification in vascular neurology.
Dr. Dodick has authored more than 380 peer-reviewed publications and authored/edited 10 books. He is the chair of the American Migraine Foundation, chair of the American Academy of Neurology (AAN) Annual Program Concussion Committee, co-director of the American Registry of Migraine Research, chair of the International Registry for Migraine Research, chair of the International Headache Society Global Patient Advocacy Coalition, co-director of the Annual AAN Sports Concussion Conference, president-elect of the International Concussion Society, immediate past-president of the International Headache Society, former editor-in-chief of Cephalalgia, and past-president of the American Headache Society.