Migraine Gives Western Woman Chinese Accent

May 18, 2010 Updated: May 18, 2010

Migraines can do a lot to you, but in Sarah Colwill’s case, the symptom was particularly strange.

Chronic migraine headaches have affected her speech in such a way that although she has never been to China, she now speaks with a Chinese accent, unrecognizable to her family and friends.

Colwill, 35, lives in Plymouth, Devon, U.K. Colwill has suffered from severe headaches for a decade, but this year she was diagnosed as having rare sporadic hemiplegic migraines. The condition causes blood vessels in the brain to expand, resulting in stroke-like symptoms.

The effects usually last for about a week, yet Colwill had brain damage after the migraines culminated in an extreme one she suffered in March.

According to the Daily Mail, she said that the change happened after she had a headache in March extreme enough that she had to call an ambulance. Upon her arrival at the hospital, paramedics said that her voice was strange, and she realized that she was speaking with a Chinese accent.

“I spoke to my stepdaughter on the phone from hospital and she didn't recognize who I was. She said I sounded Chinese. Since then I have had my friends hanging up on me because they think I'm a hoax caller. I speak in a much higher tone now—my voice is all squeaky,” she said in the Daily Mail article.

In addition to speaking like a Chinese woman, she is unable to pronounce the names of her family members and loved ones. She fears she may never regain her usual pronunciation and tone of voice.

According to doctors, she has Foreign Accent Syndrome (FAS), a condition in which there is damage to the part of the brain that controls speech and word formation. Only 60 known cases of FAS exist in the world since it was discovered in the 1940s. Dr. John Coleman, a phonetics expert at Oxford University, said the syndrome is thought to be caused by strokes and brain injuries.

"FAS is extremely diverse, and is almost certainly not caused by one thing," he said according to the Guardian. "It is not a well-defined medical phenomenon and therefore not the kind of problem that there are any easy generalizations about."

The first known case of FAS was of a Norwegian woman who was hit by bomb shrapnel during World War II and spoke with a German accent since then.