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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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.
There are three types of 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.
The main symptoms of any stroke include:
A severe headache that occurs suddenly
Difficulty walking and loss of balance
Loss of vision
Numbness or weakness in the face, arm, or leg, often linked to one side of the body
Difficulty speaking or understanding speech
As mentioned, strokes are caused by a blood clot or hemorrhage in the brain. However, some risk factors could make you more susceptible.
Risk factors of strokes include:
The primary risk factor for strokes is hypertension (high blood pressure)
Age — the risk increases with age
You are more at risk if a blood relative has experienced a stroke or TIA in the past
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
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.
The main categories of seizures are:
Unknown seizures (seizures with an unknown onset or cause)
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
Risk factors that increase your likelihood of experiencing seizures include:
Serious head injuries
Brain infections, such as encephalitis or meningitis
The primary treatment for seizures is medication. The main medicines used to treat seizures and epilepsy are anti-epileptic drugs (AEDs).
Possible medications include:
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.
Seizures and strokes share many similar symptoms, including:
Loss of muscle control
Loss of awareness
Loss of sensation or feeling numb
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
What are the risk factors of seizures? | Epilepsy Foundation
Seizure medications (2022)
Nutritional deficiencies as a seizure trigger | Epilepsy Foundation
Alcohol as a seizure trigger | Epilepsy Foundation
Differences between a stroke and a seizure | Cedars Sinai