Medical Minute 10-27: Copycat Conditions: Stroke Mimics

By: Vanessa Welch Email
By: Vanessa Welch Email

Jennifer Lardizabal enjoys every moment of game night when she can. She suffers from complicated migraines, a condition that affects over 23 million Americans every year. During one attack, Jennifer was rushed to the hospital. She thought she was having a stroke.

"I remember all of a sudden this arm went numb, my face went numb, and I was very very scared," said Jennifer Lardizabal.

During live coverage of the Grammys, reporter Serene Branson starts 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 that have all the symptoms that seems like a stroke but turns out they are not," said Ralph Sacco, M.D., Professor and Hairman of Neurology University of Miami Miller School of Medicine.

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.

"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."

Jennifer now knows her symptoms are caused by migraines. But when one hits, her husband's extra careful.

"He asks me certain questions, so we talk about it to make sure I'm not having a stroke."

For more information on other series produced by Ivanhoe Broadcast News contact John Cherry at (407) 691-1500,


WHAT IS A MIGRAINE? 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:

Omar Montejo
Director, Media Relations

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