A relationship between migraine and out of body experiences? Really?
You may be wondering if I’m serious – or if I’m that desperate for topics that I’m reaching for some that are a bit on the bizarre side.
The truth is, no, I’m not in any way at a loss for things to write about. I’ve chosen this one on purpose – I am serious, and I have a feeling there are a number of migraineurs out there that are thankful someone is talking about this.
Our of Body Experiences – a Symptom of Migraine?
It has been known for some time that out of body experiences, or OBEs, are a possible symptom of migraine. This is not to say that all OBEs can be attributed to migraine. But I have a hunch (and I’m not the only one) that this symptom is more common than we think – that it’s under reported.
I was recently reading a discussion of migraine and OBEs from the 80s. And back in 1999, Derek Robinson and Dr. Klaus Podoll suggested that OBEs were a migraine symptom, based on their observations of migraine art (see Out-of-body experiences and related phenomena in migraine art.). An example of this migraine art can be seen online here.
And as they demonstrated in their recent book Migraine Art, this doesn’t just come from observations of the art but from testimonies of patients themselves. In fact, they list 17 medical case reports (about 70% female, 30% male, between the ages of 17 and 66) of out-of-body and related experiences in migraine patients. Most of these patients had repeated OBEs.
Why this would be under reported is obvious. As one patient put it:
I have never told anyone else, as I have not wanted to be called or thought of as queer, and even a supposedly understanding doctor might lift his eyebrows at some of the happenings of a migraine victim, who learns to keep things strictly to herself, excluding both family and physician from her confidence.
-from Hallucinations of physical duality in migraine by Dr. Caro W Lippman, quoted in Migraine Art.
What is an Out-of-Body experience?
You probably already know that there’s a lot of controversy about what exactly OBEs are. There’s those who believe the soul actually leaves the body, of course, but there is also a great deal of discussion in the medical community about what may be going on neurologically – physically – in the brain.
Because hallucinations of various kinds are common in migraine attacks, a strong theory is that there is a relationship between migraine and OBEs, and that these OBEs are another type of hallucination coming from memory and imagination.
But we’re putting a lot under this category – let’s look at how some patients described their symptoms (mostly from the book Migraine Art):
- the feeling of my transparent body leaving my physical body
- toward early morning I woke up, and instead of being in bed I was suspended in the air halfway toward the ceiling. I looked on the bed and saw myself lying asleep
- one patient reported the extraordinary sensation of being drawn out horizontally through a small hole in the centre of the skull
- Some patients are simply aware of the presence of an invisible double
- One male patient says, suddenly I would become aware of a ‘second self,’ vaguer than and more tenuous than the original ‘me.’ I felt just like a double exposure looks.
- Like I’ll feel like my hands are at my sides, but they’re folded in my lap. It’s real bad when I feel like I’m sideways, but I’m sitting up in my chair. (quoted here)
Sometimes these experiences last a split second, sometimes longer. Sometimes they happen in bed, sometimes while going about normal daily activities.
And this doesn’t even take into account other bodily hallucinations felt by migraineurs – for example, the awareness of another ‘presence’ in the room, or the feeling that one part of your body has ‘stretched’, or that your head is actually splitting open, and so on and so on. There are so many variations it’s hard to know how to categorize them.
But is it really a migraine symptom?
We don’t know – and the reason is that many people report OBEs, and many people are migraineurs. You would expect that there would be overlap. Also, is the OBE actually a symptom of migraine, or a symptom coming from a common cause? And what part does medication play?
But there are good arguments in favour of considering OBEs a real migraine symptom. For example:
- Hallucinations of various kinds are very common in migraine
- OBEs in migraine patients often go along with other better-known symptoms of a migraine attack. In other words, the OBE comes along at the same time as the attack, and often is intertwined with other symptoms.
Why this article is here
We’re talking about this today because
- It shows once again how unique migraine symptoms can be
- We need to get this information out in the open because people do need to talk to their doctors about it.
- There are some of you out there with these symptoms who are afraid to share with anyone – you’re not alone.
- For those that have these symptoms, you need to know there is research being done. This is not an unheard of symptom, although we certainly understand very little about it.
So please share your comments and thoughts if you’re willing – let’s learn more about this aspect of migraine, which may be more common than most people think…