Migraine or Stroke? Separating the Symptoms

By Wendy Bacigalupi-Bednarz, Editorial Contributor

Suffering a migraine headache is a sure-fire way to ruin your day. But, what if your headache is a stroke instead of a migraine? Can you tell the difference?

Migraine and stroke are very different conditions, but can have similar symptoms. This can make it difficult for people to tell them apart, explains Dr. Robert Hirschl, a neurosurgeon with Orlando Health Neuroscience and Rehabilitation Institute Neurosurgery Group. The differences in symptoms can be so subtle that people often don’t know whether to seek treatment for a migraine or stroke — or when. 

Comparing the Symptoms

Migraine symptoms include a throbbing headache on one side of the head or behind an eye, pain on one side of the body, nausea and vomiting, and sensitivity to light and sound. Stroke symptoms typically include slurred speech, balance issues and a sudden headache.

Migraine and stroke share some common symptoms, such as blurred vision, sudden confusion, numbness or weakness on one side of the body and trouble speaking. However, it’s important to recognize symptomatic differences, which can steer you toward appropriate and timely treatment, says Dr. Hirschl.  These differences include:

  • Rapid onset: Stroke occurs suddenly without any advanced signs.
  • Repeat occurrences: Migraines are ongoing and can occur several times a month.
  • Weakness: Facial drooping, weakness and numbness on one side of the body are more common in stroke.
  • Pain: Migraines usually are accompanied by pain, while most strokes are not (though hemorrhagic strokes can have painful symptoms).

Knowing their family medical history can help guide migraine sufferers toward the right treatment decisions, says Dr. Hirschl. If your family has a history of stroke, and your symptoms are very different from previous migraines, you should seek immediate medical attention.

Find out your risk of a stroke using the scorecard at


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