How can you tell the difference between stroke and migraine that can mimic stroke?


Some forms of migraine can present with symptoms that mimic stroke symptoms. Knowing the particulars of migraine with aura and how it differentiates from stroke is important in diagnosis.


“The aura, of course, is what interests us in migraines, things that people’s brains do during an attack. They get a visual aura, which most people know about, including zigzag lines, and scotoma, or lack of vision, which can last on average up to 15 to 20 minutes. Or they can have numbness that travels up and down a limb, from their hand to their face, and their face to their arm, frequently involving the tongue. That's really important, because if you've got the numbness involving your tongue, it's more likely a migraine than a stroke. I think that someday someone will come up with a stroke involving the tongue, but if the numbness goes from your face, to your tongue, and down your arm, in a so-called march, that's more likely migraine.”

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Allan Purdy, MD

Professor of Neurology
Dalhousie University, Canada

Dr. Allan Purdy is a neurologist and a professor at Dalhousie University in Nova Scotia, Canada. Dr. Purdy is currently President of the American Headache Society. He has also served as president of the Canadian Headache Society and on the Board of Directors for the International Headache Society.

Dr. Purdy is regarded as one of the most gifted teachers in the field, developing educational programs for physicians around the world who care for patients with headache diseases. In addition to his research and education work, Dr. Purdy continues to see headache patients in his Canadian clinic on a part-time basis.