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Migraine or Stroke? Separating the Symptoms

February 22, 2021

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. Jason Williams, a board-certified neurologist at Bayfront Health St. Petersburg, which is a nationally accredited Comprehensive Stroke Center. 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. If in doubt, seek immediate medical attention.

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. Williams.

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

These differences include:

Rapid onset: Stroke occurs suddenly without any advanced signs.

Weakness: Facial drooping, weakness and numbness on one side of the body are more common in stroke.

Repeat occurrences: Migraines are ongoing and can occur several times a month.

Pain: Migraines usually are accompanied by pain, while most strokes are not (though hemorrhagic strokes can have painful symptoms).

To learn more about Bayfront Health St. Petersburg’s national accreditation as a Comprehensive Stroke Center, visit

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