Doctors explain differences between ‘complex migraine’ and mini-stroke symptoms

Gary Kubiak speaks at a Denver Broncos press conference on Jan. 20, 2015.

Gary Kubiak speaks at a Denver Broncos press conference on Jan. 20, 2015.

DENVER — Denver Broncos head coach Gary Kubiak was diagnosed with a complex migraine condition after leaving the stadium in an ambulance Sunday night.

Kubiak had flu-like symptoms, including extreme fatigue and body weakness, according to Patrick Smyth with the Broncos.

He previously suffered a transient ischemic attack — often called a “mini-stroke” — in 2013.

FOX31 Denver spoke to two doctors about the similarities and differences between the two conditions. Neither doctor has treated Kubiak, but agreed to discuss general information about the conditions.

Dr. Marc Wasserman is a neurologist with Blue Sky Neurology.

“Transient ischemic attacks are due to loss of blood flow to the brain, whereas a migraine is due to neurons firing in a different pattern,” Dr. Wasserman explained.

Dr. Rafer Leach is a former emergency room doctor.

“The complex migraine is just a migraine headache with neurologic features and so it can cross over into that continuum of mini stroke,”  Dr. Leach said.

A typical migraine might trigger flashing lights in your vision, blurriness or “sparkles.”

“Lot of times with migraines, literally one minute you’re doing fine, the next minute you’re starting to see things, the aura, and that’s when you know ‘Oh no, I’m going to have one,'” Leach said.

“But if it hits a different area, if it goes, for instance, to the motor cortex you can actually feel weak, tired.  You can lose sensation on one side temporarily it can mimic even a stroke,” Dr. Wasserman said.

Leach said the severity of the symptoms can depend on the veins that are being impacted.


“If they’re big and large, that’s dilation and you get that throbbing pounding headache. But they can constrict and get very narrow and you can start to get the symptoms that coach Kubiak had,” according to Leach.

“[A complex migraine condition] can be precipitated by fatigue, stress. I can’t imagine much more stress than being the head coach of the Broncos,” Leach said.