Head pain. Blurred vision. Confusion. Light-headedness. All are symptoms of both migraines and strokes. But not knowing the difference could cost you your life, a top doctor says.
Ravindra Rajmane, M.D., a professor of medicine at NYU Langone Medical Center, tells Newsmax TV that stroke and migraine symptoms are often mistaken for each other. But while migraines will eventually go away on their own, with or without medication, a stroke can cause death within hours, if left untreated.
“If you’re an individual who has migraines and you [experience a] migraine attack that is a little bit atypical … I certainly think having somebody else evaluate you is a wise idea,” he explains in an interview on Newsmax TV’s Meet the Doctors program. “If you’re unsure [because] there are certainly stroke mimics, come to the emergency room and have a provider evaluate you.”
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Stroke is a leading cause of death, claiming about 140,000 lives and costing the nation $36.5 billion annually in healthcare expenditures, medications, and lost productivity. Strokes can be caused by a ruptured blood vessel that leads to bleeding in the brain (called a hemorrhagic stroke), which may require surgery. They can also be caused by a blood clot (an obstructive or ischemic stroke), which can be treated with an anticoagulant known as tissue plasminogen activator (tPA).
“A stroke, simply put, is really a catastrophe, a catastrophic event in the brain,” Dr. Rajmane explains. “Think of it as a brain attack. There are different ways that the brain can be … attacked and it really has to do with [disruption of] blood flow to the brain … either from something that prevents blood flow in an artery that’s usually an obstruction or something that causes the artery to rupture.”
Typical symptoms of stroke include:
- Sudden numbness or weakness of the face, arm, or leg.
- Sudden confusion or trouble speaking or understanding others.
- Sudden trouble seeing in one or both eyes.
- Sudden dizziness, trouble walking, or loss of balance or coordination.
- Sudden severe headache with no known cause.
Migraines, which strike as many as one in 10 Americans, can cause intense throbbing or a pulsing sensation in the head and may be accompanied by nausea, vomiting, vision disturbances, and sensitivity to light and sound.
Some research suggests there may be a connection between migraines and some types of stroke.
Several conditions and lifestyle factors put people at higher risk for stroke, including high blood pressure and cholesterol, heart disease, diabetes, and smoking, Dr. Rajmane notes.
Several strategies can reduce your risk for stroke:
- Eating a healthy diet.
- Maintaining a healthy weight.
- Being physically active.
- Avoiding tobacco.
- Limiting alcohol use.
- Preventing or treating high cholesterol, high blood pressure, and diabetes.
Dr. Rajmane notes that strokes must be treated quickly or they can lead to significant brain damage, disability, or death. That’s why it’s critical to know the signs and symptoms of stroke.
“It’s important for not only patients but also family members, kids, grandchildren to recognize these signs in older folks or actually at any age [because] stroke can occur at any age,” he says. “And if there’s a question and the patient has risk factors — such as hypertension, diabetes, high cholesterol — certainly I would get that person to an emergency room to evaluated by a provider.”
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