A stroke and a seizure are both serious and impact your brain activity. The causes and effects they have on your brain health are different, however.
A stroke occurs due to a disruption of blood circulation in the brain. A seizure occurs due to a surge of electrical activity in the brain.
In addition, a stroke can permanently affect your thinking and muscle control. The effects of a seizure are usually temporary.
Strokes and seizures share some symptoms. These include:
- feelings of numbness or tingling in parts of the body
- difficulty speaking or understanding words that someone is saying to you
Severe strokes or seizures may also lead you to lose consciousness.
Symptoms of seizures
Seizures tend to have beginning, middle, and end stages. You may not notice when one stage ends and another begins. Each phase of a seizure has a unique set of symptoms.
The beginning stage of a seizure may start minutes, hours, or even longer before the actual seizure.
One feature of this stage is an aura. An aura is a change in your vision and other senses. You may be particularly sensitive to light, or you may see strange lights and colors that no one else can see. Your sense of smell and taste may also become distorted. Other signs before a seizure may include dizziness and feelings of anxiety.
The middle stage of a seizure is known as the ictal phase. During this part of a seizure, you may lose consciousness, or you may zone out for several minutes or longer. You may have trouble hearing or seeing. You may experience hallucinations as well.
During a seizure, you may:
- blink excessively
- lose control of your muscles
- twitch or experience muscle freezing
- bite your tongue
- sweat excessively
- repeat actions, such as walking or getting dressed and undressed
- experience temporary incontinence
The end stage is called the postictal phase. You may experience the following during this stage:
- memory loss
- temporary paralysis
Symptoms of a stroke
Unlike a seizure, a stroke tends to occur pretty suddenly. You may suddenly have a violent headache and other symptoms. These symptoms often include:
- numbness or pain on one side of the body
- facial drooping
- trouble walking
- a sudden lack of coordination
- incoherent speech
- difficulty understanding words that are spoken to you
If symptoms develop and worsen, or don’t go away, you’re likely having a stroke.
The two main types of stroke are ischemic and hemorrhagic.
An ischemic stroke is much more common than a hemorrhagic stroke. It occurs due to a blockage in an artery that supplies blood to the brain. The blockage could be from a blood clot that lodges in the artery or that blocks blood flow in one of the carotid arteries. These arteries take blood up the sides of the neck to the brain.
A hemorrhagic stroke occurs when a blood vessel in the brain bursts. As a result, blood leaks into surrounding tissue. The flow of blood stops at the point where the artery ruptured.
One of the most common causes of a hemorrhagic stroke is high blood pressure. This is because high blood pressure can weaken an artery. This makes it more likely to burst.
High blood pressure is also one of many potential causes of a seizure. Other causes range from being overheated and experiencing withdrawal after quitting alcohol or medications to snake bites and epilepsy. Epilepsy is a brain disorder that leads to frequent seizures if medication doesn’t control it.
Risk factors for seizures
If you have epilepsy, you’re at a high risk for seizures. Having a family history of seizure disorders may also raise your risk of seizures.
Experiencing a head injury increases your risk of seizures, but they may not appear right away. You may go several months or more than a year before you have a seizure related to your injury. A stroke may also trigger a seizure, either immediately or after you’ve recovered from the stroke.
Risk factors for stroke
The primary risk factors for stroke are cardiovascular disease, high blood pressure, and abnormal heart rhythms. These are known as arrhythmias. Arrhythmias allow blood to pool and form a clot in the heart. Additional risk factors for stroke include:
- carotid artery disease
- advanced age
- a family history of stroke or cardiovascular disease
Some of these risk factors, such as high blood pressure and smoking, are controllable with lifestyle changes. When needed, medications can also help control them.
If you suspect you’re having a stroke, seek emergency medical help right away. A doctor will perform an exam and listen to your heart.
These kinds of imaging tests may also help diagnose a seizure. Blood tests and a physical exam are also part of the diagnostic process. It’s also important that you or someone who witnessed the seizure tell the doctor about what happened.
Treatment for stroke
If you get to a hospital within 4 1/2 hours with an ischemic stroke, you may be eligible for an injection of tissue plasminogen activator (tPA). It’s known as a clot-busting drug. It can help restore healthy blood flow. The main risk with tPA is serious bleeding, because it interferes with your blood’s clotting ability.
Your doctor can also insert certain devices into an artery and guide them to the location of a clot to retrieve the clot and restore blood flow.
Your care after a stroke will depend on the severity of the stroke. Physical therapy is usually required, especially if the stroke compromised your ability to walk or use your hand. Your doctor may also prescribe a blood thinner and blood pressure-lowering medication.
You’ll be advised to make lifestyle changes, such as quitting smoking, losing weight, and getting regular exercise when you’re physically able.
Treatment for seizures
Dozens of medications are available to control and prevent seizures. The right medication for you depends on the type of seizures you have. You may need to try a few different drugs and doses to get the right combination for you. Seizure medications are usually taken daily to help prevent these episodes.
Rest is usually advisable after a seizure. Finding a calm and quiet setting is helpful. It can take hours to recover fully.
You can have a mild stroke that leaves you with minimal complications or a more serious stroke that causes permanent disability or even death.
If you receive treatment quickly after a stroke, your odds of a good recovery are much higher. If you participate in rehabilitation, you also improve your chances of a full recovery. For some people, stroke recovery is a lifelong journey.
Once you find the right medication to control your seizures, living with epilepsy can be manageable. If epilepsy isn’t the cause of your seizures, you should talk to your doctor about treating the underlying cause.
If you’ve had a seizure or an episode that you think was a seizure, talk to your doctor about getting a diagnosis. Don’t assume that seizures are inevitable. Be proactive about seeking help to control and prevent seizures.
If you have risk factors for stroke, such as high blood pressure or smoking, take steps now to control those. You can:
- Quit smoking.
- Follow a healthy diet.
- Exercise at least 150 minutes per week.
- Take medications as prescribed.
Seizures and strokes can be serious. But you may be able to keep them from interfering with your health and quality of life by taking preventive steps and proper care now.