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Rare Form of Migraine Sidelines Notre Dame Linebacker

A rare and severe form of migraine was in the spotlight recently when Danny Spond, a Notre Dame linebacker, had to stop playing football after struggling with hemiplegic migraine for the last year.

Spond hopes to continue as a linebacker coach for the Fighting Irish, but his departure and a statement from team physician, Jennifer Malcolm, MD, indicated just how disabling this form of migraine can be.

“Hemiplegic migraines are a rare form of headache that present with temporary stroke-like symptoms, such as weakness and slurred speech,” Dr. Malcolm said when Spond announced his decision. “Danny has suffered from a series of these migraines, but with medication, rehabilitation and a positive attitude, he should avoid any long-term consequences. As there are no fully reliable predictors of hemiplegic migraines and ultimate prevention is extremely challenging, we fully support Danny.”

News accounts report that Spond had to leave the field one day at practice in last year’s pre-season when one side of his body went numb; he was later diagnosed with hemiplegic migraine. After coping with another recent attack, he was at the football field limping and using a cane. At one point, Spond said, he had been partially paralyzed and wondered if he would walk again.

Considered a severe form of migraine with aura and affecting only 1 in 10,000 people, hemiplegic migraine includes a range of symptoms that can change with each episode, including weakness or paralysis on one side of the body, slurred speech, and confusion.

Headache experts believe genetic mutations are the cause of hemiplegic migraine. Sometimes the mutations run in families, and with other patients,  they arise on their own.

Treatment for this type of migraine can be difficult. Because it is so rare, no clinical treatment trials have been conducted, and patients must rely on the treating neurologist’s experience and a trial-and-error strategy. Prevention of the attacks is often the focus of treatment and typically includes calcium channel blockers. The use of triptans, the most effective acute treatment for migraine, is controversial due to the risk of vasoconstriction (narrowing of the blood vessels).

More research into these disabling headaches is required. Learn more about hemiplegic migraine.

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