Difference Between A Stroke And Seizure

Strokes and seizures are neurological disorders, meaning they affect the brain. While there are differences, the effects of these conditions share several similarities. 

There is enough evidence¹ to suggest that a stroke can increase your chances of experiencing a seizure or developing epilepsy. Evidence also indicates that epilepsy can triple your risk of a stroke. Hence, there appears to be a connection between strokes and seizures.  

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What is a stroke?

A stroke happens when blood flow is compromised in a part of the brain. For example, blood flow can become disrupted by blood clots or hemorrhages. 

When this occurs, brain cells cannot obtain enough oxygen from the blood and start to die. If too many brain cells die, it can cause lasting damage, long-term disability, and sometimes death. 

Types of stroke 

There are three types of stroke:

  • Ischemic stroke

  • Hemorrhagic stroke

  • Transient ischemic attack (TIA), also known as a mini-stroke

Ischemic strokes are caused by blood clots. When a clot blocks a blood vessel leading to the brain, blood cannot get through it to supply the brain with oxygen. 

Hemorrhagic stroke occurs when a brain blood vessel breaks and bleeds into the brain. While this is less common than ischemic stroke, it can be more severe. For example, it could cause an aneurysm, leading to extensive brain damage. 

TIAs are like mini-strokes because they only block the blood supply to the brain for a short while. Usually, the damage caused to the brain cells is reversible. However, after having a TIA, you are more at risk of having an ischemic or hemorrhagic stroke. 

Stroke symptoms

The main symptoms of any stroke include:

  • A severe headache that occurs suddenly

  • Difficulty walking and loss of balance

  • Dizziness 

  • Loss of vision 

  • Numbness or weakness in the face, arm, or leg, often linked to one side of the body 

  • Sudden confusion 

  • Difficulty speaking or understanding speech 

Stroke cause

As mentioned, strokes are caused by a blood clot or hemorrhage in the brain. However, some risk factors could make you more susceptible. 

Stroke risk factors

Risk factors of strokes include:

  • The primary risk factor for strokes is hypertension (high blood pressure)

  • Diabetes

  • Heart disease 

  • High cholesterol 

  • Smoking

  • Alcohol 

  • Poor diet

  • Poor exercise

  • Obesity 

  • Age — the risk increases with age 

  • You are more at risk if a blood relative has experienced a stroke or TIA in the past 

Treatment for strokes

You should seek acute treatment if you or someone else is experiencing a stroke and get to a hospital as soon as possible. Delaying treatment can worsen brain damage and extend the recovery period significantly (where recovery is possible). 

Treatment for stroke includes:

  • Hospital care treatment to stop the stroke while it is happening 

  • Rehabilitation after the stroke has occurred to overcome any disabilities caused by it

  • Preventative measures, such as medications to reduce the severity of another stroke

What is a seizure?

Seizures are caused by abnormal electrical signals in the brain between neurons or nerve clusters. The symptoms can vary depending on the type of seizure and where it occurs in the brain. 

Seizures can last up to two minutes. However, a seizure is considered a medical emergency when it lasts for longer than five minutes. 

People who have frequent and recurring seizures caused by a brain disorder have a condition called epilepsy. 

Types of seizures

The main categories of seizures are:

  • Focal seizures 

  • Generalized seizures 

  • Unknown seizures (seizures with an unknown onset or cause) 

Seizure symptoms

The symptoms of seizures vary depending on the type of seizure present. Here is a broad range of symptoms that can potentially happen during an episode: 

  • Loss of consciousness or awareness

  • Shaking, trembling, jerking motions

  • Auras - a sensation or visual effect that occurs just before or during the seizure 

  • Repetitive movements, such as lip smacking

  • Muscle contractions and spasms 

  • Fainting or collapsing 

  • Loss of motor control 

Seizure risk factors

Risk factors that increase your likelihood of experiencing seizures include:

  • Serious head injuries

  • Brain tumors 

  • Strokes

  • Brain infections, such as encephalitis or meningitis 

  • Alzheimer's disease 

Treatment for seizures

The primary treatment for seizures is medication. The main medicines used to treat seizures and epilepsy are anti-epileptic drugs (AEDs). 

Possible medications include:

  • Carbamazepine 

  • Oxcarbazepine 

  • Phenytoin 

  • Phenobarbital 

  • Lacosamide 

  • Vigabatrin

  • Topiramate

  • Valproate

  • Levetiracetam

Some of these medications are for focal and generalized seizures specifically. Others may specifically work to slow down the abnormal electrical activity in the brain that causes seizures. 

Improving lifestyle factors such as diet and sleep may reduce seizures. However, avoiding or limiting alcohol is essential. 

Similarities and differences between strokes and seizures

Seizures and strokes share many similar symptoms, including:

  • Confusion

  • Difficulty speaking

  • Loss of muscle control 

  • Loss of awareness

  • Loss of sensation or feeling numb

  • Visual disturbances 

However, some symptoms don't cross over. For example, a stroke usually affects one side of the body, but seizures that affect the body are not usually limited to one side. Another difference is that seizures typically last for two minutes, while a stroke will last much longer.

How are seizures and strokes related?

Seizures and strokes are related because having one condition increases the risk of having the other. 

For example, a cohort study² addressed whether people with epilepsy were more or less likely to have a stroke. In this study, researchers found that people who suffered from seizures were three times more likely to experience a stroke. 

However, it's essential to acknowledge that several lifestyle factors also increase the risk of a stroke. These include poor eating, lack of exercise, and unhealthy habits like smoking. So, if you suffer from seizures, improving these factors could help reduce your risk of stroke. 

Sometimes, a person may not subsequently experience any seizures after a stroke. But in other cases, seizures may become a chronic complication and occur frequently. When this happens, an individual may have developed epilepsy. 

Since strokes and seizures are both neurological conditions, it makes sense that one may increase the risk of the other. However, one does not always cause the other, and you may have a stroke without experiencing a seizure at all, or you may experience frequent seizures and never have a stroke. 

It's hard for healthcare professionals to predict whether a stroke will cause a seizure or a seizure will cause a stroke. If you are worried that you might be at risk, you should book an appointment with your doctor and discuss possible preventative measures that could help. 

The lowdown

There are some similarities and differences between strokes and seizures regarding their symptoms. But the main point to acknowledge is that experiencing one increases your risk of experiencing the other.

If you are worried about this, you could try assessing the risk factors of each to see which applies to you. Additionally, you could book an appointment with your doctor to discuss preventative strategies. 

People also ask

What is the difference between a stroke and a seizure? 

Strokes and seizures are two types of brain conditions. However, the main difference is that strokes occur when the blood flow to the brain is compromised. For example, reduced blood flow to the brain could be caused by a blood clot. In contrast, seizures are brought on by abnormal electrical activity in the brain. 

Can strokes cause seizures? 

People who have experienced a stroke are more likely to experience a seizure. However, this is more likely to happen within the first 24 hours following a stroke. In some cases, seizures can become a frequent occurrence after a stroke, leading to a condition known as epilepsy. 

Can seizures and epilepsy make you more susceptible to a stroke? 

Studies have investigated whether frequent seizures or epilepsy can make someone more prone to experiencing a stroke. For example, one cohort study demonstrated that people with epilepsy were three times more likely to have a stroke.

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