Q: Is it common for memory loss to occur during a migraine?

A: Memory loss is an unusual side effect of migraine. However, it has been reported in the medical literature and there are certainly numerous reports of it in internet chatrooms.

Migraines are common. About 10% of the population suffers from them at some time. They occur more often in women than men.

A migraine headache can be triggered by sleep deprivation, stress, normal menstrual cycles, and certain foods. Some people have visual changes before they get a headache. These are called an aura. Most people do not get this warning. People describe migraines as throbbing, usually one-sided headaches that make them sensitive to light and sound. The headaches are often accompanied by nausea.

Some people suffer from what we call complex migraines. These are migraine headaches accompanied by neurological symptoms. The symptoms that can occur during an episode include:

  • Difficulty moving one side of the body

  • Slurred speech, difficulty finding words

  • Imbalance

  • Vision problems

Any time a person has any of the above symptoms, he or she should seek immediate medical attention. Although it may be just a complex migraine, the symptoms above require evaluation for other possible problems, such as a stroke.

Memory loss can also occur with complex migraine.

But there are other reasons why memory loss might occur, even with simple migraine. During a migraine attack, it’s hard to concentrate, so processing new information and storing the information is likely to be difficult. This could be misinterpreted as memory loss. It’s also possible for migraine medications to cause you to feel sleepy and have a sense of memory loss.

Still, if you are suffering from memory problems, I think it is important to discuss this with your doctor and not attribute it to headache without considering other causes for memory loss.