Curious Migraine Aura Symptoms Explained: “Alice in Wonderland” Syndrome.
Alice in Wonderland Syndrome (AIWS) is a form of migraine aura that causes visual, tactile, and auditory hallucinations. Migraine headache patients describe seeing nearby objects like windows and doors as being suddenly “miles away,” and undergoing a distorted reaction to images, sounds, and time, only minutes before a migraine attack strikes.
Similar to the “curious and curiouser” observations described by Alice in Lewis Carroll’s Alice in Wonderland classic stories, migraine auras might have provided the inspiration for Alice’s trip down the rabbit hole- it’s a well-known fact that Lewis Carroll suffered from migraines- but there’s no evidence that he ever experienced the eponymous migraine symptoms as defined.
Who gets Alice in Wonderland Syndrome?
AIWS aura usually strikes young children during the evening. “Night terrors” may wake them up from their sleep, causing them to appear disoriented for several minutes. Some child migraine sufferers eventually grow out of it when they reach their teen years. However, Alice in Wonderland Syndrome is not restricted to children; it can occur in adults, as well, and at any time of the day.
What are the symptoms of Alice in Wonderland Syndrome?
AIWS can distort body perception, auditory abilities, and other sensory skills. Below are some of the most common symptoms of Alice in Wonderland Syndrome auras:
Distorted body image
“It was much pleasanter at home, when one wasn’t always growing larger and smaller, and being ordered aboutby mice and rabbits.”
Distorted body image, sudden magnification or elongation of arms, neck, or midsection, similar to what you would see in a funhouse mirror.
6-year-old Olivia Watts described experiencing odd sensations during school; at times, it would seem that people’s heads would become exaggeratedly large and stretched out, only to return to normal minutes later. Many children who experience AIWS keep it to themselves, afraid of others calling them mentally ill.
“Take care of the sense, and the sounds will take care of themselves.”
- The Duchess
Some migraine patients hear unusual sounds during an aura- noises that only they can hear. Sometimes their perception of volume falters and background noises like television, road traffic, or appliances either become louder or suddenly dim.
Loss of spatial awareness
“What if I should fall right through the center of the earth… oh, and come out the other side, where people walk upside down.”
Another bizarre symptom of AIWS is loss of spatial awareness, which causes dizziness, vertigo, and confusion. Twenty-one-year-old undergraduate Rick Hemsley, in his interview with The Guardian, described the first time he experienced Alice in Wonderland Syndrome:
“I can’t explain myself, I’m afraid, Sir, because I’m not myself you see.”
Speech abnormalities are a common side effect of auras, including those associated with AIWS. Explained one migraine sufferer to reporters, “I thought I was making perfect sense, but I was told I was speaking gibberish.”
What causes Alice in Wonderland Syndrome?
Physicians don’t know the exact causes of Alice in Wonderland Syndrome; only that it correlates with a variety of conditions. These include:
- History of migraines in family
- Temporal lobe epilepsy
- Brain tumor
- Drug use
- Epstein Barr viral infection
If you have experienced any of the symptoms described for AIWS migraine auras, then it is crucial that you visit a neurologist and submit to an MRI, so that any life-threatening conditions may be ruled out.
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