Copycat conditions: Stroke mimics

Millions of Americans suffer from migraines. Some have attacks so painful and debilitating they can be mistaken as the third leading cause of death in the US.

Jennifer Lardizabal suffers from complicated migraines, a condition that affects over 23 million Americans every year. During one attack, Jennifer was rushed to the hospital because she thought she was having a stroke.

Lardizaba recalls, "I remember all of a sudden my arm went numb, my face went numb, and I was very, very scared."

Another example happened during live coverage of the Grammy Awards. Rporter Serene Branson started speaking gibberish. Many believed she was having a stroke on-air, but she suffered a complicated migraine attack similar to what caused Jennifer’s stroke scare.

Neurologist doctor Ralph Sacco says the symptoms are stroke mimics. "Stroke mimics have all the symptoms that seem like a stroke but turns out they are not."

Strokes occur when a part of the brain is deprived of oxygen and nutrients. Victims can suffer vision loss in one eye, sudden weakness in one side of the body, or trouble speaking. Stroke mimics have similar effects.

Dr. Sacco says, "The best examples are migraine, seizures, or having either low or elevated blood sugar. It's difficult to sort through when you are dealing with a stroke mimic and we still tell people, think stroke first."

Dr. Sacco says people who suffer from these symptoms are more likely to have a real stroke later in life, but if treated early, that could be avoided. Several studies suggest that the use of TPA, a clot buster drug used to treat strokes, has been safe when treating stroke mimics.


The cause of migraines is still not fully understood. They may be caused by changes in the brainstem and interactions with the trigeminal nerve, a major pain pathway. Chemical imbalances may also be the verdict, such as serotonin. Serotonin, aside from influencing one's mood, helps regulate pain in the nervous system. During a migraine, serotonin levels drop and the trigeminal nerve releases neuropeptides which causes the headache pain.

MIGRAINE AURA: A migraine aura is the migraine that is often mistaken for a stroke. It causes temporary visual or sensory disturbances and may be caused by a chemical wave that passes through the visual cortex, the part of the brain that processes visual signals.

CAUSES: There are numerous things that can trigger a migraine such as:
• Hormonal changes in women
• Foods- skipping meals, fasting, alcohol, aged cheeses, chocolate, aspartame, overuse of caffeine
• Stress
• Sensory stimuli- bright lights, unusual smells, loud noises
• Changes in sleep pattern
• Physical factors- intense physical exertion
• Changes in climate or barometric pressure
• Certain Medications

SUGGESTED TREATMENT: Tissue Plasminogen Activator (TPA) is a clot buster drug used to treat strokes that can be used to treat complicated migraines. TPA is a glycoprotein that directly activates the conversion of plasminogen to plasmin. The way it is used is by directly inserting it into the vein or sometimes directly in the artery at the first sign of stroke symptoms. It was first manufactured in 1983 by a recombinant DNA process and became commercially available in 1988. (SOURCE: * For More Information, Contact:

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