People have asked how to know if we're having a Migraine or a stroke. Unfortunately, many of the symptoms we experience with a Migraine can also be symptoms of stroke, and there are times when we might think it's possible that we're having a stroke, not a Migraine.
In Canada, a doctor is now speaking out about the importance of getting medical care if we're uncertain or think we may be having a stroke rather than a Migraine. Dr. David Butler-Jones is Canada's chief public health officer. He now admits that he was his own worst enemy when he self-diagnosed and didn't seek immediate medical care for an episode in May, and that delay was costly in terms of his recovery.
The first symptom he noticed was an "aura of light passing his eyes." He noticed some difficulty swallowing during dinner, and went to bed early because he was feeling tired. By morning, he noticed that he was having difficulty moving. At that point, he sought medical care.
At that point, however, it was too late for treatment with clot-busting medications such as tPA (tissue plasminogen activator). These medications can stop a stroke in it's tracks if the patient is having an ischemic stroke, one caused by a blood clot. But, it has to be given within three hours of symptoms beginning.
In an interview, Butler-Jones said:
"I watched it evolving, trying to talk myself out of it being a stroke... They say that doctors don't make the best patients, and that's probably true... I never thought seriously about a stroke ... but when I woke up in the morning, suddenly it's like 'oh, I'm walking funny.'"
Butler-Jones has had a rough recovery but is now back to work part-time. He has been dealing with the challenges of therapy, working to improve his memory, and dealing with bouts of depression. Worst of all, he has had to accept the fact that he may never recover fully. One reason he's been talking to the Canadian press is to encourage others not to ignore the symptoms of stroke.
The Take-Away Points:
If we're every uncertain about whether the symptoms we're experiencing are Migraine or stroke... If we're ever concerned that we could be having a stroke, it's critical to get to the hospital as soon as possible. Medications such as tPA can make an amazing difference for anyone having an ischemic stroke (one caused by a blood clot) IF it's administered in time. These medications have made a huge difference in the treatment of stroke and the chances of a full recovery. Hesitating to seek medical care could cost us dearly.
We can't put off getting these symptoms checked out because we don't want to "bother" the doctor or we don't want to face the possibility of stroke. The simple fact is that there are times when only a doctor can tell us if what we're experiencing is a Migraine or a stroke.
If you think you're having symptoms that could be Migraine or stroke, and you're not sure, call your doctor or get to the hospital immediately. Some people have reported taking aspirin before going to the hospital or calling an ambulance because they thought that's what one is supposed to do. It's not. It's when you think you may be having a heart attack the you're supposed to take aspirin. Aspirin or other NSAIDs can, in reality, be dangerous if we're having a hemorrhagic stroke, a stroke caused by a rupture in a blood vessel that allows bleeding into the brain. They can make the bleeding worse.