Stroke Mimics

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A stroke is a serious medical condition that produces a physical handicap or problems in communicating or thinking. The effects of a stroke are the result of damage to the brain that occurs when there is a lack of blood supply to any region of the brain. It is important to be able to recognize a stroke because if you can recognize stroke symptoms, you can save your own life or someone else's life by calling for help right away.

Sometimes, the most common stroke symptoms may be caused by another medical illness that also has the same symptoms as a stroke. These medical conditions produce stroke symptoms that are, surprisingly, not  caused by a stroke, and thus these illnesses often mimic a stroke. If you have stroke symptoms, it may, in fact, turn out that you have one of these other medical problems, and not a stroke.

Conditions that can mimic a stroke include:

  • Seizures
    Seizures are episodes of abnormal brain activity. Although most people are familiar with the type of seizures that cause unconsciousness and violent body shakes, there are other types of seizures that resemble strokes and TIAs. Sometimes seizures do not include shaking episodes or unconsciousness, but instead, produce less dramatic stroke-like symptoms, such as weakness in one arm or one leg or lack of alertness. It may take some time for your doctor to determine whether you had a mild seizure and not a stroke. There are a number of similarities and differences between a stroke and a seizure.
  • Migraine Headaches
    Migraine headaches are painful, often debilitating headaches that affect a large percent of the population. Most migraine headaches are characterized primarily by pain of the head, neck and shoulders. However, some types of migraines are accompanied by symptoms that can be confused with a mini stroke, including temporary facial paralysis, vertigo, blurry vision, and weakness or numbness in the arms or legs, making it difficult to distinguish a migraine from a stroke. Find out when headaches are a big deal.
  • Dizziness
    Dizziness is a very common feeling. But, dizziness is also one of the most vague and confusing, yet potentially significant symptoms a person can experience. In fact, people can feel similar degrees of "dizziness" from a stomach virus as they do from a stroke. Because of this, it is important to seek medical attention if you experience sudden dizziness or persistent dizziness. It may take some time and several medical tests before you medical team gets to the root of your dizziness. That is because there are so many medical illnesses that can cause dizziness. Find out when dizziness is a big deal.
  • Face Weakness
    Face weakness can be a very concerning symptom, and is one of the trademark signs of a stroke. If you have face weakness or if you see that someone has face weakness, it is important to get urgent medical attention right away. But, sometimes, sudden face weakness can be the sign of a fairly common condition called Bell's Palsy. Bell's Palsy often improves on its own, but you might need some medication to help you as you recover if you are diagnosed with Bell's Palsy.
  • Nerve Tingling
    Nerve tingling can be the sign of a stroke, but it also may be the sign of a condition called neuropathy, which is disease of the nerves. There are a number of similarities and differences between a stroke and neuropathy, and the most important difference is that a stroke is a medical emergency while neuropathy is not. Neuropathy is certainly an important medical problem that needs to be taken care of so that it does not continue to get worse. Another major difference between stroke and neuropathy is that medical treatment for neuropathy is completely different than the medical treatment used for a stroke.
  • Weird Symptoms
    Strange symptoms such as Deja Vu and ringing in your ears can be very disturbing. Often, these symptoms turn out to be caused by medical problems that are not stroke. However, it is important to seek medical attention for any weird or baffling symptoms because they can turn out to be the sign of a health problem.


Edited by Heidi Moawad MD


Stroke mimic diagnoses presenting to a hyperacute stroke unit, Dawson A, Cloud GC, Pereira AC, Moynihan BJ, Clin Med (Lond). 2016 Oct;16(5):423-426.

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