Migraine vs. Stroke: How to Tell the Difference

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Migraine vs. Stroke: How to Tell the Difference

You have a terrible headache. How do you know if it’s something serious? Some of the symptoms of a migraine can be very much like those of a stroke.You have a terrible headache. How do you know if it’s something serious? Some of the symptoms of a migraine can be very much like those of a stroke.

If you think there’s even the slightest chance you’re having a stroke, call 911 right away. Early treatment can limit the damage to your brain and possibly save your life.

If you’re over 40 and have never had a migraine, assume your pain is something more serious. People who get migraine typically have it most of their lives. It’s rare to have your first symptoms when you’re older.
If you get migraine and your aura symptoms or headaches seem different than what you’ve typically experienced,, get checked out. Most people with migraine have similar symptoms each time.

What Is a Stroke?

During a stroke, blood flow to part of your brain is cut off. Cells there don’t get enough oxygen and start to die.

There can be two causes. Either a blood vessel is blocked, for instance with a blood clot, or a blood vessel tears or bursts and causes bleeding in or around the brain.

A sudden severe headache can be a sign of a stroke. Other common symptoms are:

  • Numbness or weakness, especially on one side of your body
  • Trouble speaking or trouble understanding others
  • Vision problems in one or both eyes
  • Sudden dizziness or loss of balance or coordination
  • Confusion

The kind of stroke that tends to be mistaken for a migraine is called a transient ischemic attack, or TIA. It’s also known as a “mini stroke” because blood flow to your brain is cut off only for a short time. Symptoms are less severe than with a regular stroke and may last less than an hour.

What Is a Migraine?

Migraine is a disease that causes recurrent attacks of head pain together with other symptoms such as a bad headache that often comes with nausea, vomiting, and sensitivity to light, sound, smell, or touch. The pain may throb or pulse, and you usually feel it on one side of your head around your eye or temple.

A migraine with aura is the kind that can be confused with a stroke. An aura affects your senses and usually happens before the headache. You may see light flashes, zig-zagged lines, or blind spots, or you might feel tingling or numbness in your arms, legs, or face. You might have ringing in your ears or trouble speaking. Sometimes, you’ll have those symptoms but never get a headache. That tends to happen more often as you get older.

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