Strokes and seizures can have similar symptoms, such as confusion, falling to the side, and not responding. A stroke often occurs suddenly, while seizures may have a warning phase.

A stroke and a seizure are both serious and associated with major changes in brain activity. However, their causes and effects on your brain health are different.

A stroke occurs due to a disruption of blood circulation in the brain and always requires emergency medical care. A seizure occurs due to a surge of electrical activity in the brain and often requires medical attention, especially if it is a person’s first seizure.

A stroke can permanently affect your thinking and muscle control, while the effects of a seizure are usually temporary.

Learn the differences between a stroke and a seizure and when to get medical attention.

Strokes and seizures share some possible symptoms. These can include:

  • confusion
  • difficulty speaking or understanding words
  • falling
  • inability to control movements voluntarily
  • unawareness or unresponsiveness

Severe strokes or seizures may also cause you to lose consciousness.

If you are unsure if someone has had a stroke or a seizure, it is best to call 911 or your local emergency services. A stroke can be life threatening.

Symptoms of a stroke

A stroke tends to occur suddenly. You may suddenly have changes in vision or weakness on one side of your body. Stroke symptoms often include:

  • numbness or weakness 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
  • headache

If symptoms develop and worsen or don’t go away, you’re likely having a stroke. A stroke is a medical emergency and requires prompt emergency treatment. If you think you or someone else may be having a stroke, call 911 or your local emergency services. Early treatment can help reduce the risk of death or permanent disability.

Learn about the symptoms of a stroke that may differ for males and females.

Symptoms of seizures

Seizures tend to have beginning, middle, and end stages, though you may not notice when one stage ends and another begins.

The beginning stage of a seizure may start minutes, hours, or even longer before the actual seizure. Symptoms during this phase may include:

  • an aura, or change in your vision or other senses, like seeing strange lights and colors
  • light sensitivity
  • dizziness
  • anxiety

The middle stage of a seizure is known as the ictal phase. During this phase, you may:

  • lose consciousness or zone out for several minutes or longer
  • blink excessively
  • drool
  • lose control of your muscles
  • muscle jerking, twitching, or freezing
  • bite your tongue
  • sweat excessively
  • repeat actions, such as walking or getting dressed and undressed
  • experience temporary incontinence
  • have trouble hearing or seeing
  • have hallucinations

The symptoms and severity of a seizure can vary by the type. A partial (focal) seizure affects only one part of the brain, while a generalized seizure affects the whole brain and typically causes you to lose consciousness.

The end stage is called the postictal phase. You may experience the following during this stage:

  • sleepiness
  • confusion
  • memory loss
  • fear
  • temporary paralysis

If you or someone else has a seizure for the first time, this is considered a medical emergency.

Learn what a seizure feels like by type of seizure.

A stroke is when an area of the brain is permanently damaged, usually due to insufficient blood supply in that region. A seizure is abnormal electrical activity in the brain that occurs due to underlying brain damage.

Stroke causes

The two main types of stroke are ischemic and hemorrhagic.

An ischemic stroke occurs when an artery that supplies blood within the brain is blocked. The blockage could be from a blood clot that forms within the artery or from a clot that travels to the brain from one of the carotid arteries. These arteries take blood up the sides of the neck to the brain. This type of stroke is much more common.

A hemorrhagic stroke occurs when a blood vessel in the brain bursts. Blood leaks into the surrounding tissue, and the torn artery cannot supply enough blood to nearby tissue.

One of the most common causes of a hemorrhagic stroke is chronic and untreated high blood pressure. High blood pressure can weaken an artery, making it more likely to burst.

Seizure causes

You can have a seizure as a result of various health conditions. These can include:

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 include:

  • cardiovascular disease
  • high blood pressure
  • arrhythmias (abnormal heart rhythms), which allow blood to pool and form a clot in the heart

Additional risk factors for stroke include:

Some of these risk factors, such as high blood pressure and smoking, can be managed with lifestyle changes. When needed, medications can also help control them.

The main diagnostic test for a stroke is a brain imaging test, such as a brain CT or MRI. The main diagnostic test for epilepsy and seizures is EEG, a brain wave test.

If you suspect you or someone else may be having a stroke, call 911 or your local emergency services. Prompt treatment of stroke can help reduce the risk of complications.

If you suspect you or someone else may be having a seizure, it’s best to get emergency medical attention, especially if the person does not have a diagnosed seizure disorder or seizure medication.

Doctors can perform tests to determine the cause of a seizure and treat the underlying cause.

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. Participating in rehabilitation also improves your chances of a full recovery. For some people, stroke recovery is a lifelong journey.

Learn more about stroke recovery.

Once you find the proper medication to control your seizures, living with epilepsy can be manageable. If epilepsy isn’t the cause of your seizures, you should talk with your doctor about treating the underlying cause.

Strokes and seizures may sometimes have similar symptoms.

A stroke causes brain damage and can result in permanent loss of function, such as weakness on one side of the body, a change in vision, or speech impairment. A seizure causes a brief episode of abnormal movements or changes in consciousness.

A stroke is a medical emergency and requires fast treatment to reduce the risk of death and disability.

If you are unsure whether someone is having a stroke or a seizure, it is best to seek emergency medical attention.