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7 Common Stroke Mimics That Look Like You're Having a Stroke

Posted August 29, 2022 by Madihah Hepburn, M.D.

Woman holding her head and grabbing onto a post

When you’re having a stroke, every minute counts. Fast treatment can lessen the brain damage that strokes can cause and improve survival rates, while lowering disability rates. In fact, many of the most effective treatments are only available if the stroke is diagnosed within three hours of symptoms.

A stroke is a serious medical condition that occurs when the blood supply to any region of the brain is reduced or blocked completely. Strokes are the No. 5 cause of death and a leading cause of disability in the United States, according to the American Stroke Association. A stroke can happen to anyone, at any age, so it’s important to know the warning signs.

If you’re experiencing any of these common stroke symptoms, remember BE FAST and call 9-1-1.

  • Balance – Dizziness, trouble walking, loss of balance and coordination
  • Eyes - Trouble seeing in one or both eyes
  • Face – Facial drooping or severe headache with no known cause
  • Arms - Numbness or weakness in the arms
  • Speech - Slurred speech, trouble talking or understanding speech
  • Time – to call 911

The question is how do you know if you’re having a stroke or something else? There are several conditions that can cause symptoms similar to a stroke, known as stroke mimics. A seizure, high blood pressure and even migraine headaches can cause sudden numbness or weakness.

Summa Health sheds light on 7 common stroke mimics and what symptoms to watch for so you can act fast to identify the cause. Just remember, while it’s helpful to be aware of stroke mimics, keep this in mind: A stroke is not a wait-and-see kind of condition. When in doubt, call an ambulance immediately and let medical professionals determine what’s causing your severe symptoms.

  1. Seizures

    Seizures are episodes of abnormal brain activity caused by a sudden, uncontrolled electrical disturbance in the brain. While most people are familiar with the most severe seizure that causes unconsciousness and violent body shakes, there are many other types of seizures that mimic stroke symptoms, such as weakness in one arm or leg, numbness, tingling, temporary confusion, or loss of consciousness.

  2. Migraine headaches

    Most migraine headaches involve severe pain in the head and neck. However, some migraines can mimic a mini-stroke with symptoms such as, temporary facial paralysis, blurred vision, slurred speech, or weakness or numbness in the arms or legs.

  3. High or low blood sugar

    Too much or too little sugar in your blood can cause your brain to misfire. Low blood sugar can cause symptoms similar to a stroke, such as dizziness, shakiness, irregular heartbeat or severe headache. High blood sugar, on the other hand, can cause blurred vision, weakness, severe headache and feeling out of it, making it difficult to distinguish high blood sugar from a stroke.

  4. Bell’s Palsy

    Sudden facial weakness can be a sign of Bell’s Palsy, a condition caused by damaged nerves that help control your facial muscles. Symptoms can include mouth drooping, drooling or trouble closing one eye. Facial weakness can be a very concerning symptom, as it is one of the hallmark signs of a stroke.

  5. Brain tumor

    A brain tumor is a growth of abnormal cells in the brain. Depending on where it is located, a brain tumor can cause a whole host of different symptoms, some similar to a stroke. You may lose coordination, have trouble speaking or seeing, have weakness in your arms or legs, or develop confusion.

  6. Multiple sclerosis

    Multiple sclerosis is a chronic condition that occurs when the immune system attacks nerve cells in your brain and spinal cord. This can cause numbness, tingling, muscle weakness, vision loss and impaired coordination.

  7. High blood pressure

High blood pressure emergencies can cause dizziness, numbness, tingling sometimes weakness, as well. If your blood pressure is 180/120 or higher and you are experiences the symptoms listed above, you should visit the emergency room.

What should you do if you develop stroke-like symptoms?

Typically when a person is suffering from a stroke, symptoms are abrupt and appear simultaneously. In many cases, symptoms of a stroke mimic tend to come on gradually. A head CT scan or MRI is the best way to rule out a stroke.

That’s why when in doubt, never delay treatment. Get to the emergency room for a medical evaluation. It’s important to call an ambulance so medical staff can begin diagnosis and treatment on the way to the hospital. The consequences of a real neurological emergency can be quite significant. That’s why any stroke-like symptoms should be taken seriously with quick action to save a life — perhaps your own.

To schedule an appointment with Summa Health’s award winning neurology care team, call 877.739.1687 or visit


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If your situation is an emergency, call 911.