A German nurse has been diagnosed with a rare type of migraine that affects about 0.01 percent of the population after suffering an attack while working on a cruise ship in Dubai.
While Sophie Marie Troester had suffered from migraines since her younger days, she had no idea about the rarity of her condition until she suffered a severe migraine attack.
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Troeste was sailing with the crew from Greece and was off the Dubai coast when she fainted following a severe migraine.
She manifested symptoms like stroke and experienced paralysis on the right side of her body.
“It felt like a thunderstorm inside my head,” Troester told the hospital where she was treated.
Though a frantic medical team on the cruise ship came to her aid, she exhibited severe symptoms.
The right side of her body had become paralyzed, and she could not speak.
She was rushed to Medeor Hospital in Dubai, where a neurologist diagnosed her with hemiplegic migraine – a rare and severe form of the condition.
The medical team on the cruise ship feared Troester had a stroke.
“I wanted to tell them I was fine. But I could not. Words were not coming out. It was a terrible situation,” she said.
Recollecting what happened on the day, Troester said: “I was reading a book lying on my bed, and my vision started to blur. I understood that the migraine was kicking in, and I needed help.”
“I had a previous experience. So, I tried to pick up my phone and ring my friend. But it did not take much time.”
“My muscles had become weak. I could not hold the phone in my hand, and it kept falling. I had to try hard, and somehow, I managed to make a call. But all I could utter was a single word – hospital.”
Troester had experienced a similar massive attack about five years ago.
“That was in 2016 while I was in Germany. I went to a hospital, but the doctors could not diagnose my condition. They said I have a migraine with aura. Later, I used to get minor headaches, which lasted for a day or two. But one of this intensity had never happened,” she added.
According to her, the effect of the migraine lasts for a few days.
“It hits me with tremendous pain. It feels like somebody is ripping your head apart,” she said.
“This excruciating pain continues for a few minutes, followed by weaknesses in the muscle. Though I get better in one hour, the effect stays with me for some more time – maybe a day or two. Then everything is fine and feels like normal.”
Dr. Anas Abdul Majeed, a consultant neurologist at MedeorHospital, Dubai, who treated Troester, said hemiplegic migraine is rare but treatable. The condition occurs in families and rarely in individuals (sporadic).
Troester belongs to the latter category as there is no family history.
According to Abdul Majeed, a migraine is a common disorder affecting about 15 percent of the population. However, the prevalence of hemiplegic migraine is negligible. It is present in less than 0.01 percent.
“The hallmark of hemiplegic migraine is one-sided weakness accompanied by a migraine attack. It begins with a visual symptom followed successively by abnormal sensation, muscle weaknesses, and difficulty in speaking,” the doctor said. “Each symptom evolves over 20 to 30 minutes and may take hours to subside.”
However, proper diagnosis is crucial and challenging as it is purely a clinical process unaided by imaging and other tests. There have been several instances where hemiplegic migraine was treated as stroke.
“Sophie had the sequential pattern, which helped in the diagnosis,” said Abdul Majeed, adding that a prophylactic medicine can prevent the occurrence of the migraine.
“Sophie can travel or do whatever she wants to do. She has no other underlying health conditions and is just perfectly fine. She has to take medications for some time to avoid future occurrences.”