Copycat conditions: Stroke mimics

FRESNO, Calif.

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.

"Just the pain was very severe," Jennifer told Action News.

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," Jennifer explained.

During live coverage of the Grammys, reporter Serene Branson starts speaking gibberish. Many believed she was having a stroke on- air. However, she suffered a complicated migraine attack similar to what caused Jennifer's stroke scare.

Neurologist Ralph Sacco says the symptoms are stroke mimics.

"There are other things that can be called stroke mimics that have all the symptoms that seem like a stroke but turns out they are not," Sacco, M.D., professor and chairman of neurology at the University of Miami Miller School of Medicine, told Action News.

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," Dr. Sacco explained.

Because stroke symptoms and stroke mimics are so hard to distinguish, the best way to be sure is to seek medical help.

"It's difficult to sort through when you are dealing with a stroke mimic, and we still tell people, 'think stroke first,'" Dr. Sacco said.

Jennifer now knows her symptoms are caused by migraines, but when one hits, her husband is extra careful.

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

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.

Omar Montejo
Director, Media Relations

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