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What Is the Difference Between a Stroke & a Seizure?

By Bridget Coila ; Updated August 14, 2017

A stroke and a seizure are two medical problems with separate causes and symptoms. They require different responses and treatments. Recognizing the difference between a stroke and a seizure can help people who see one of these medical conditions determine how to help.


Although both conditions may appear suddenly, a seizure often occurs in conjunction with a known underlying seizure disorder such as epilepsy. Someone who has a seizure will likely have been through the experience before, while a stroke may be a one-time event. Someone experiencing a seizure may shake or convulse and could fall unconscious. Some seizures, however, are much less dramatic, involving small repetitive motions, feelings of intense emotion, hallucinations or mild twitches. The symptoms of a stroke include numbness or weakness on one side of the body, vision problems, confusion, difficulty speaking or understanding speech, dizziness and severe headache. Seizures may occur at any age, while strokes are more common in the elderly.


Most seizures are caused by epilepsy, an abnormal firing of the brain neurons, although some nonepileptic seizures may be psychological in nature or caused by high fever in infants. Strokes are often the result of a blockage in the arteries leading to the brain, which can be caused by narrowed arteries or a blood clot that became stuck in the artery. Strokes may also be caused by a burst blood vessel in the brain.


Most seizures do not cause complications afterward, and the individual can proceed with normal activities without seeing a doctor. Strokes are a medical emergency and require immediate medical assistance. If a stroke is not treated within three hours, the likelihood of permanent damage is much higher.


Seizures are often not dangerous in and of themselves, but the underlying disorder should be evaluated and treated. Anti-epileptic drugs may be used to control seizures, with dosages and type decided by a doctor who can assess the specific type of epilepsy. Stroke treatment also depends on the type of stroke involved. For a stroke caused by a blood clot, drugs called tissue plasminogen activators can be administered to destroy the clot.


Occasionally, a seizure may last longer than five minutes and develop into a condition called status epilepticus in which the individual cannot stop seizing without medical assistance. People with seizure disorders may also be more likely to die suddenly of undetermined causes. Strokes may cause lifelong complications, including a decreased ability to walk, talk, concentrate and do everyday activities.


Sometimes a stroke may damage the brain in such a way that it causes a seizure or the potential for seizures. Anyone who has a stroke should be watched for signs of either a repeat stroke or seizures. People with seizure disorders are no more likely to develop strokes than anyone else.

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