Is it a migraine, or am I having a stroke?

You are suddenly overcome with a severe headache. Perhaps you’ve had migraines in the past, so you think you’re suffering a typical attack. Or maybe you’ve never had a migraine before, but are sure that this must be one. Sometimes, migraines may mimic strokes. And strokes may disguise themselves as migraines. Besides the possible common clue of a headache, migraines may also be accompanied by neurological symptoms that can be difficult to differentiate from a stroke. So how do you know when to head to your closest emergency room?

As you get older, the prevalence of migraine decreases and stroke increases. Stroke risk factors such as hypertension, diabetes, and heart disease are more common in older people. But don’t let that fool you. Stroke has no age limit. They are most common after age 55 but can happen to young adults, teens, children or even babies. Loved ones with congenital heart defects, immune disorders, diseases of the arteries and abnormal blood clotting are all at risk. And likely due to the rise in obesity, the incidence of stroke among younger adults has been on the rise.

Between 1995 and 2015, the increased number of young people (ages 15-44) who were hospitalized for stroke closely followed an increase in high blood pressure, diabetes, obesity and lipid disorders.

Signs of a Stroke

Call 911 if you:

  • Or a loved one has trouble speaking or are slurring words
  • Have sudden confusion or difficulty understanding speech
  • Try to smile and one side of the face seems to be drooping
  • Have an abrupt severe headache (a headache can occur prior, during or after the onset)
  • Raise both arms and one tends to drift down or feels numb, weak or stiff. Or have any sudden numbness especially on one side of the body
  • Are dizzy, have trouble seeing, walking or maintaining balance
  • Or a loved one is nauseous, vomiting, fainting or having a seizure (less common symptoms)

Kansas City Stroke Care  

Take a Stroke Risk Assessment


Signs of a Migraine

A migraine is a severe headache caused by changes in your nervous system. The headache can last a couple hours or several days and can be debilitating. Prior to a migraine attack many people experience:

  • Depression, hyperactivity or irritability
  • Constipation or diarrhea
  • Drowsiness
  • Food cravings

Some people may have no warning signs at all. Like anything else, everyone is unique so symptoms can vary. Sometimes migraine headaches may be accompanied by visual, sensory, motor or verbal symptoms. About 15-20% of migraine sufferers experience migraine with aura. Auras typically develop over 5-20 minutes and last less than 1 hour. The most common types of migraine aura are visual and come before a headache. A brief aura with a following headache can be a key clue that you are suffering a migraine. Long or unusual auras may be especially difficult to differentiate from a stroke or transient ischemic attacks (TIAs). Possible migraine aura symptoms are:

  • Nausea
  • Blurred, decreased or lost vision
  • Sensitivity to light, sounds or smells
  • Trouble speaking or comprehending language
  • Dizziness or confusion
  • Vomiting
  • Seeing brief flashes of light or wavy lines
  • Numbness tingling or weakness

Kansas City Neurologist  

Neurology Care

Multiple studies show an association between migraine (particularly migraine with aura) and ischemic stroke risk. However, the increase in the risk of stroke is small.

Emergency Stroke Care

If you think you or a loved one may be having a stroke, it’s always better to err on the side of caution. Call 911 or find your closest emergency room as soon as possible. Our Kansas City hospitals have all been recognized for excellence in providing stroke care.

Remember, every second counts if you’re having a stroke. If you call 911 lifesaving treatment can begin while you or a loved one are still on the way to the ER. The faster the diagnosis and treatment of a stroke, the better chance of not only saving a life, but of reducing brain damage and the possibility of permanent disability.

Kansas City ERs

Comprehensive Stroke Care

From diagnosis to treatment the neurologists, neuroradiologists, neurosurgeons, nurses and other medical experts work together to minimize any potential brain damage. From there, many stroke survivors may be best served by our stroke rehabilitation specialists. Our rehab team will work with the individual and their loved ones to help the person relearn any skills that may have been lost and achieve the best quality of life possible.

Stroke Recovery in Kansas City