Conditions That Look Like a Stroke

A stoke can give you a variety of symptoms, but a bunch of other health problems can cause some of the same ones, too. Conditions from migraine to multiple sclerosis can make you feel confused, dizzy, weak in the arms, or have trouble seeing, speaking, or moving.

While it's helpful to learn about conditions that are similar to stroke, keep something important in mind: A stroke isn't a wait-and-see kind of problem. Immediate treatment is crucial. If you notice any signs of one, get medical help right away. When you're in the emergency room, you may get imaging tests, like an MRI or CT scan, that can help doctors decide if you're having a stroke or something else.


These are like having an electrical storm whip through your brain. Everything gets out of whack for a short time. Just like a stroke, a seizure can have symptoms including numbness, tingling, or weakness in your arm or leg.

After a major seizure, you can get what's called Todd's paralysis, where you can't move one side of your body. It can also give you problems talking and seeing. Sometimes it goes on for just half an hour, but it could last as long as 36 hours.


The pain itself can be enough to drive you to the hospital. But there's more to the story than a severe headache.

If you get migraine with aura, you might see things like flashing lights or zigzag shapes. You can even lose your sight for a short while. You can also get tingling and numbness in your arms or legs. And it may cause you to slur your words when you speak.

Low or High Blood Sugar

Low blood sugar can look a lot like a stroke. You may feel like you're just not all together mentally. You might feel clumsy or not be able to move one side of your body. And it can make you dizzy, give you tingling around your mouth, and cause a headache.

High blood sugar can cause blurred vision and make you feel weak and out of it.


Bell's Palsy

It's caused by a damaged nerve that helps control your face muscles. With this condition, you have sudden weakness in part of your face. You may not be able move it at all. That can cause what seems like a telltale sign of stroke: a drooping face.

Brain Tumors

Like strokes, they cause different symptoms based on where they are. You may have a headache or trouble with your balance. You may feel weak in your arms or legs. You might have a hard time talking or seeing. Or you may feel confused and find you can't remember things.

Multiple Sclerosis (MS)

When you have this condition, your body's immune system attacks nerve cells in your brain and spinal cord. You may get problems with your vision or have numbness, tingling, and muscle weakness. These symptoms can seem similar to a stroke.

Conversion Disorder

It's a disorder where you may have nervous system symptoms such as trouble walking or problems with your hearing, sight, or speech. However, even though you have these problems, you don't have any nervous system disease or medical condition that can explain them.

It can make you feel numb or weak. You might have a hard time keeping your balance. You can lose your voice or have trouble swallowing. You may get tunnel vision. And you might find that with some part of your body, you can only make jerky movements or even none at all.

Sepsis and Other Infections

Sepsis is when your body goes out of control fighting an infection. For example, you might get an infection in your skin, lungs, kidney, or gut. It spreads and starts a series of reactions throughout your body. It can get worse quickly and lead to organ failure and death.

Sepsis can make you feel confused, and as you get sicker, there are points where it can look a lot like a stroke.

Infections in your brain and spine may also have stroke-like symptoms. Encephalitis -- swelling in the brain often caused by a virus -- can make it hard for you to think, focus, and move some parts of your body. It can give you problems seeing and speaking as well.

WebMD Medical Reference Reviewed by Arefa Cassoobhoy, MD, MPH on November 16, 2017



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Harvard Health Publishing, Harvard Medical School: "Don't Be Fooled by TIA Symptoms."

Providence Health Plan: "Is it a stroke, or something else?"

Johns Hopkins Medicine: "Seizures."

NIH, National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke: "Todd's Paralysis Information Page."

Emergency Medicine Reports, Sept. 20, 2015: "Stroke Mimics: A Clinical Dilemma."

Mayo Clinic: "Migraine with Aura," "Encephalitis," "Benign Paroxysmal Positional Vertigo (BPPV)," "Functional neurologic disorders/conversion disorder."

Sepsis Alliance: "Definition of Sepsis."

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American Family Physician: "Diagnosis of Acute Stroke."

Novant Health: "Hypoglycemia."

National Organization for Rare Disorders: "Conversion Disorder."

Medscape: "Ischemic Stroke Differential Diagnoses."

American Heart Association: "Syncope (Fainting)."

National Multiple Sclerosis Society: "What is MS?" "MS Symptoms."

CDC: "Sepsis."

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