MUMS – Migraine and Arm Weakness

Migraine researchers are struggling with a type of migraine that is just starting to be understood, known as MUMS – that is, migraine with unilateral motor symptoms. One of the most unusual symptoms is a type of weakness in one arm.

MUMS has been connected in the past with hemiplegic migraine. That’s because the key symptom with hemiplegic migraine is a kind of temporary paralysis on one side of the body.

But there seems to be a group of migraine patients who fit or almost fit the description of hemiplegic migraine, and yet they have somewhat unique symptoms.

So what is the key symptom of MUMS? Every patients with MUMS has a kind of weakness or paralysis in one arm and/or hand. Commonly it’s a kind of weakness called “give-way” “give-away” “collapsing” weakness.

MUMS - migraine with unilateral motor symptoms

Give-way weakness is diagnosed when pushing on the arm is resisted, but the arm “gives-way” suddenly for no apparent reason.

Patients with MUMS also often suffer from dizziness, numbness, allodynia (painful/sensitive areas of the skin), visual aura and other visual problems, language problems, confusion, and pins and needles.

What makes things even more scary is that the arm weakness may continue even when patients are not in the middle of an actual migraine attack.

Some patients have been confused by the discussion around “give-way weakness” and “true weakness”. Some doctors seem to suggest that the weakness is somehow “imaginary”.

The fact is that, as with many migraine symptoms, no one is sure what is causing the weakness. It may be that it’s another symptom coming from activity in the brain, the same activity that seems to cause visual auras. It’s not voluntary or imaginary at all.

Because of some of the related symptoms, such as allodynia, the give-way weakness could also be a “protective” measure, to try to avoid the pain and discomfort of other symptoms (which can be quite severe and disabling in MUMS).

Whatever the case, experts are recognizing that MUMS is certainly a real and serious problem.

MUMS tends to show up later in life than hemiplegic migraine, usually in the patient’s 30s, as opposed to the 20s.

Many patients with MUMS, as with hemiplegic migraine, are initially told they’ve had a stroke. And MRI should clarify whether or not the symptoms are from stroke.

It’s very important to diagnose MUMS, because there are certain treatments that may be more successful with MUMS than with other types of migraine. For example, as with hemiplegic migraine, verapamil may help.

Of course any first-time symptoms like this should get you to emergency right away. Stroke should be diagnosed as soon as possible. If you do find out you have a type of migraine, early treatment is also very important.

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5 comments… add one
  • Valerie Aug 5, 2016

    One day, I thought I was having a stroke! The left side of my face went numb, kind of like after a dental visit, and my left arm and hand went numb. I was scared to death, since my grandfather had a stoke many years ago. I spent three days in the hospital and had CT scans and an MRI. No stroke, but there were tiny scars in my brain. They called it a “Complex Migraine”. How will I know the difference on whether or not it IS a stroke???

  • Walter Damis Aug 24, 2016

    Finally, check out The Headache and Diet connection , which has reviews of some popular migraine and headache fighting cookbooks.

  • Darren Feb 6, 2017

    My wife has just been officially diagnosed with MUMS after many years of black out, speech, visual and arm & leg weakness and temporary paralysis. It is great to finally have a diagnosis and management plan in place to assist in reducing the onset and managing the symptoms.

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