The Difference Between a Stroke and a Seizure

Most people do not know the difference between strokes and seizures. Both conditions are not uncommon and both involve sudden brain 'attacks.' If you have questions about the difference between a stroke and a seizure, here is a clear explanation to help you understand the distinction between the two. 

What are other names for a stroke?

  • Cerebrovascular accident (CVA)
  • Cerebrovascular infarction
  • Brain attack 
  • Transient ischemic attack (TIA) is the correct name for a reversible stroke
  • A mini- stroke is a commonly used term to describe a reversible stroke

What are other names for seizures?

  • Convulsions
  • Brain attacks 
  • Brain spells 
  • Brain fits
  • Spasms 

Epilepsy is the correct name for the medical condition in which people are prone to repeated seizures

What is a stroke?

A stroke is brain damage caused by interruption of blood supply to an area of the brain. After a region of the brain is damaged by a stroke, people often lose some of the physical or mental ability that is normally controlled by that region of the brain.

Fnd out more about exactly how a stroke causes brain damage.

What is a seizure?

A seizure is an electrical 'misfiring' of an area of the brain that causes uncontrollable physical movements or a change in consciousness. 

Can a stroke turn into a seizure?

Since the lack of blood supply from a stroke permanently damages a portion of the brain, sometimes the area of the brain damaged by a stroke can misfire in the months or years after a stroke, resulting in seizures.


Can a seizure turn into a stroke?

A seizure does not affect blood flow to the brain and therefore a seizure does not cause a stroke. 

Can a stroke kill you?

About 15% of people who have a stroke do not survive. Death from a stroke is more likely when the stroke is very large or when it affects the brainstem or when it is a hemorrhagic stroke.


Can a seizure kill you?

It is extremely rare for a seizure to cause death. However, bodily injury that occurs during a seizure can result in serious injury or death. For example, if a person has a seizure while swimming, he could drown. If a person has a seizure while driving, she could get into an accident. If a person suffers a seizure and falls from a ladder, he may become severely injured. 

Overdosing on anti-seizure medications can cause death.

Is there medication for a stroke?

There are medications that can help prevent a stroke in people who have risk factors. Most of the stroke prevention medications are blood thinners.

There is no medication that can improve the brain damage caused by a stroke, although there is a great deal of research going on to find medications to help cure a stroke. You can find out more about emerging treatments for stroke here.

Is there medication for seizures?

There are many effective anti-seizure medications that are typically called anti-convulsants. These medications work by preventing over-activity of the electrical activity of the brain.

Using alcohol or drugs while taking anti-seizure medication can interfere with how the anti-seizure medications work, and can potentially cause a seizure.

What should I do if I think someone is having a stroke or a seizure?

If you think someone is having a stroke or a seizure, you should call for emergency help and try to stay with the person until medical professionals arrive. It would be helpful if you could describe what you saw to the emergency medical team. If you cannot remember or cannot describe it, do not worry; no one will blame you if you cannot describe the details.

Unless you are a trained professional, do not try to move a person who may be having a stroke or a seizure and do not try to give him any medicine or put anything in his mouth.

It is a good idea to move sharp or dangerous objects away if you can.


Mortality in patients with a first unprovoked seizure, Beghi E, Leone M, Solari A, Epilepsia, 2005

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