Stroke vs. Migraines: How to Differentiate the Symptoms

man with migraine

Nothing feels worse than dealing with an intense migraine, but beyond painful headaches, it’s crucial to keep a careful eye out for the symptoms since it can lead to more fatal conditions like stroke. The two health complications may seem completely unrelated, but both attacks can manifest overlapping symptoms like numbness, weakness, slurred speech, feeling disoriented, visual changes, and vertigo. 

To make matters even more confusing, there’s the off-chance that a person can experience both a migraine and stroke attack simultaneously, a double-whammy of a condition that can be painful and possibly fatal. So when you start to see the symptoms creeping up, it’s a life-saving skill to spot the difference between a migraine, a stroke, or both. 

Understanding the Relationship Between Stroke and a Migraine Attack

A stroke and a migraine attack both plagues the brain, so now that you know their primary connection, it won’t be too surprising to see how these different conditions can reflect each other’s symptoms. They may also share underlying risk factors, so how can you tell each other apart? 

How to Tell Symptoms Between Stroke and a Migraine Attack Apart

  • Migraine Attacks Happen Gradually; Strokes Can Manifest Symptoms Suddenly 

One of the biggest tell-tale signs that can help you determine whether the symptoms you’re feeling are an incoming migraine attack or a stroke is how quickly they will appear. Migraines with an aura, which is associated with having similarities with a stroke, can progress with visual interruptions, sensory overload, and piercing headaches in the span of hours to several days.

On the other hand, stroke-related symptoms can reach their peak within minutes. If everything feels intense all too fast, it’s best to call the ambulance while you can before the condition escalates. A stroke, after all, is a time-sensitive condition that increases your chances of survival the faster you address it. 

  • Pay Attention to the Changes in Your Vision Since a Migraine Attack or Stroke Impacts It Differently

A migraine attack with an aura can cause visual disturbances the same way a stroke can, but there is a key difference you should take into account. You can immediately tell it’s an incoming migraine attack if you see geometric or zigzag patterns in your visual field. Meanwhile, a stroke can cause your vision to blur or darken, which should prompt you to seek emergency medical attention. 

The Bottom Line: The Importance of Knowing the Difference Between a Stroke Attack or Migraines 

Migraines can feel highly uncomfortable and can even disrupt your daily life, but dealing with a stroke can lead to disabilities and death in its worst-case scenario. Knowing how to tell a migraine attack from a possible stroke is crucial for your health, so if you notice any alarming symptoms, don’t hesitate to call 911 right away! 

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