On Sunday night, Emmy-nominated CBS reporter Serene Branson began delivering a live report from the Grammy Awards in Los Angeles. She spoke roughly three or four words, then descended into several seconds of muddled gibberish. Immediately, the Internet was abuzz about what could have gone wrong. Was she overtired? Stressed? Or was it something more serious, like a stroke or a neurological problem?
The jury’s still out on the cause of Branson’s verbal breakdown. Both the local CBS station and Branson’s reps have been tight-lipped on the subject. On Monday the station issued a statement:
Serene Branson was examined by paramedics on scene immediately after her broadcast. Her vital signs were normal. She was not hospitalized. As a precautionary measure, a colleague gave her a ride home and she says that she is feeling fine this morning.
There has since been much speculation about what could have been going on inside Branson’s brain when the event occurred. Appearing on the Today show Tuesday morning, Dr. Keith Black, a neurosurgeon at Cedars-Sinai Medical Center in L.A., and Dr. Nancy Snyderman, NBC’s chief medical editor, suggested that Branson had likely suffered a transient ischemic attack (TIA), or a temporary stroke. (More on TIME.com: Diet Soda May Lead to Stroke Risk? Really?)
The American Heart Association defines a TIA as a “mini stroke,” caused by a blood clot that blocks off the blood supply to the brain, but clears before permanent damage is done. Its symptoms are generally the same as those of a stroke, but are only temporary.
Dr. Snyderson went on to say that based on the tape of Branson’s incident, hers was a “classic sign of a neurologic event.” Tell-tale symptoms include weakness on the right side of the face, slurred speech and inability to communicate. Other common symptoms: problems walking, profound headache. (More on TIME.com: Could Mom’s Stroke Predict Her Daughter’s Heart Attack?)
Speaking with the New York Times, Dr. Daniel Labovitz, assistant professor of neurology at Einstein School of Medicine and attending stroke neurologist at Montefiore Medical Center, also suggested TIA. The Times reports:
He said her speech problem suggests she had a blockage in the part of the brain that involves speech comprehension, but not speech production. Her speech pattern was characteristic of a condition called Wernicke aphasia. “The patient is pretty much unaware of the problem they’re having, and they are speaking fluently, with normal musicality of speech, but the words that come out are completely wrong,” he said. “Everything that’s coming out is unintelligible even though it sounds like language.”
Dr. Black said another possible cause was a mini-seizure in the language part of Branson’s brain.
Experts emphatically agreed that Branson should not have been sent home without going to the hospital. “Not the right thing to do,” said Snyderman on Today. “You immediately go to the emergency room because this can be a harbinger of more things to come. It’s not unlike a heart attack. You wouldn’t send a heart attack patient home.”
Snyderman noted that a neurologist should take Branson’s complete medical history and known risk factors for TIA and stroke: does she smoke, use birth control pills, or have high blood pressure, diabetes or a family history of TIA or stroke? The Today medical editor also said Branson should have been observed in the hospital overnight and given CT and MRI scans to rule out bleeding, clots, tumors or other problems inside the brain.
This troubling incident underscores the fact that even though temporary events like TIA may quickly recede, leaving patients feeling perfectly normal afterward, they may then be at higher risk for a more serious condition later in life. According to the American Heart Association, one-third of those who have had one or more TIAs will have a stroke at some later date.