“I’ve been here, I’ve been through this.” Since childhood, Beatriz Ferraz, 29, had déjà-vu, the feeling of having lived in the past a scene or experience in the present. As a teenager, Beatriz’s mother came to think that her daughter could be a medium and took her to a spiritist center. At the age of 21, the data intelligence manager, from São Paulo, received the wrong diagnosis of epilepsy, lived with the fear of having a seizure and, after seven years, discovered that she had migraine without a headache. Know her story.

“My mother says that the manifestations of déjà-vu started in childhood. I would say something like: ‘I remember coming here’. She said she had never been in that place before and let it go, she thought it was a child thing .

In adolescence, the déjà vus became stronger and were accompanied by butterflies in the stomach. It was a very quick lapse of a few seconds. The feeling of having already lived a scene or experience occurred in different situations, sometimes it was related to a place, a person, a conversation, an action.

I’ve had déjà vu washing dishes, passing the bus turnstile, working, talking on the phone with a friend.

I had déjà vu every 3 and 6 months, two to four times a day. When it happened, he’d usually had a bad night’s sleep, waking up with a heavy head. The day after the déjà-vu, I suffered from a slight forgetfulness, I couldn’t remember some things that had happened that day.

Beatriz Ferraz - Personal archive - Personal archive
Image: Personal archive

For years I was very afraid of this, it was the fear of the unknown. I thought: ‘I’m going crazy, I have a serious problem, something’s wrong’. It was as if he had no control over the situation.

At first, I told my parents, they thought it was strange, but after a while, my mother, who is a spiritist, thought that the déjà-vu were manifestations that I could be a medium. She took me to the spiritist center she attended, a girl reinforced my mother’s suspicion, but said that mediumship would only manifest itself if I wanted to, if I gave permission to do so.

I’ve never been a religious person, I’m an atheist. I didn’t want to, I didn’t identify with it and I didn’t believe it was related to Spiritism, so I ruled out that possibility.

At age 18, I sought medical help from a general practitioner and a gastroenterologist, but they didn’t find out what I had. I looked online about déjà vu and thought it might be neurological. I went to see a neurologist, I did several tests, he said they were all normal.

As the demonstrations were spaced out, he said to come back when he had a new episode. I didn’t like his answer, it wasn’t normal to have that for a lifetime.

Three years later, at 21, I looked for another neuro, I redid the exams, all were ok. The doctor diagnosed me with temporal lobe epilepsy, even though the tests did not indicate an epileptic condition, it was a clinical diagnosis, based on the symptoms —epilepsy can have déjà-vu as a symptom.

According to her, she would only need to take medication if the manifestations were more recurrent or if she had a seizure.

The possibility of having a seizure at any moment caused me enormous anxiety, I started to have anxiety attacks and a little phobia of some places. Before the diagnosis, I was very independent, I did many things on my own, especially traveling, but I decreased a lot for fear of getting sick and not having anyone to help me. I also became extremely vigilant with symptoms, imagining that perhaps any of them might precede a seizure.

I went on with my life, I went years without going to the neurologist, I still had déjà vu and, despite the fear, I never had a seizure. In 2021, I changed my medical plan, decided to have a general check-up and go to another neurologist.

I told my story to the doctor, she examined me and suspected that the diagnosis was wrong. I underwent new tests, including one in which I was monitored for 24 hours with a video electroencephalogram. After the result, having presented the same symptoms during the exam and without a record of crisis, she ruled out epilepsy and said that, in fact, I have migraine with aura, often manifested without a headache — although I have already had severe headaches. head at certain moments in life.

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Beatriz on the day of the electroencephalogram video

Image: Personal archive

She explained that patients with the type of migraine I have can experience sensations similar to what is called déjà vu and actually be a migraine aura.

Upon receiving the correct diagnosis, the feeling was of happiness and relief, it was as if a heavy weight had been lifted. For seven years I believed I had epilepsy, a much more serious illness. I had that feeling of: ‘Why did I accept the diagnosis of the other doctor, why didn’t I seek another opinion faster, I could have anticipated this relief’.

I believed in the neurologist who gave me the right diagnosis, she was very attentive and careful, but I confess that I found it curious that there is a type of migraine without headaches and I went to look it up on the internet.

When I think of migraines, I remember the attacks my mother had and needed to lie in the dark and silent.

Beatriz Ferraz - Personal archive - Personal archive
Image: Personal archive

The doctor presented me with two treatment options: a longer and preventive one, where I would need to take medication for months. And another in which I would only take it during the crisis. As the déjà-vu happened at an interval of 3 to 6 months and happened up to four times a day, I opted for the second.

The trial by fire happened on a day when I had a crisis, I took the medicine and 30 minutes later I felt better and I didn’t have any other manifestations during the day.

Since then, I have had a much lighter life, with no worries and no fears about my health. I will follow up every six months to make sure everything is ok.

I learned a lesson that I pass on to everyone around me: diagnoses can be complex, if you don’t believe you have the answer yet, seek other guidance. Even if it takes time, a doctor will help you feel safer and live well with your condition, whatever it may be.”

What is déjà vu?
It is a French expression that means already seen, it refers to the individual’s perception of having already lived a certain external experience. It is the construction of a false memory. They are believed to be manifestations arising from a false recognition of something that was seen, but not completely memorized due to an error in the process of short and long-term memory circuits. Three types of déjà-vu are described: related to a situation, a feeling or a place.

This sensation can be present in neurological situations, such as epileptic seizures and migraines. Sensations similar to those described in déjà vu can also be seen in psychiatric illnesses.

What are the main types of migraines?
In medical parlance, we call migraine a migraine. There is migraine without aura and migraine with aura, the most common. Aura corresponds to clinical symptoms such as visual alteration (bright spots, flickers, zigzag images), language alteration, olfactory, gastric and perceptual sensations, such as déjà-vu-like sensations. They usually precede the headache itself by an hour.

Migraine is a set of symptoms, including headache. We can have the aura without the headache. Migraine can present in 4 stages: the first, called premonitory, is characterized by fatigue, yawning, difficulty concentrating and craving for sweets. These symptoms can occur on average 72 hours before the headache.

The second stage is the aura, when it comes to migraine with aura. The third phase is the headache, the headache itself, which can last from 4 to 72 hours, usually in a stabbing and unilateral. It can be accompanied by nausea and vomiting, and the patient is usually very uncomfortable with light, sounds and smells.

In the fourth phase, the patient no longer has a headache, but may experience muscle pain, tiredness and often altered sensitivity in the scalp.

How to differentiate déjà vu in epilepsy and migraine?
The characteristics are not exact and well delimited, so it is necessary to make a well done anamnesis, listen carefully to the patient’s history, background and physical examination. The aura has the very remarkable characteristic of preceding the headache by 60 minutes, and progressively improving until the pain sets in.

What is the danger of confusing the diagnosis of epilepsy with migraine, especially if the patient is prescribed medication?
The risk lies in the incorrect use of medication, if, for example, we treat a patient as an epileptic and he is not. This will have an important impact on the patient’s daily life. Failure to treat migraine, which is a disease, will also impact the person’s quality of life.

Source: Polyana Pizza, neurologist at Hospital Israelita Albert Einstein (SP).