How To Tell The Difference Between Stroke and Migraine?

Posted On Nov 29, 2021

Dr. Ajit Kumar Roy

Consultant - Neurology

Manipal Hospitals - Old Airport Road - Bengaluru

Best Neurology Hospital in Bangalore

Have you ever had a terrible headache and not known why? How to tell if it is just a migraine or something major? Well, we have got you covered. Let’s learn about the difference between headaches and stroke-related headaches.

Stroke is a leading cause of death and disability in India. About 1.8 million Indians suffer from stroke every year and about one-third of these people may probably die. Early recognition of symptoms and immediate medical care helps curtail the damage. Here is what you need to know about stroke and headaches. 


A stroke is a medical emergency that occurs when the blood flow to your brain is stopped or interrupted. Your brain cells do not get enough oxygen and begin to perish. 

This could be because of a blood vessel supplying the brain being blocked due to a blood clot or a tear or burst in the blood vessels that lead to bleeding in and around the brain. 


  • Severe sudden headache

  • Numbness and weakness on one side of your body

  • Sudden dizziness 

  • Loss of balance and coordination

  • Confusion

  • Slurring of speech, trouble while speaking

  • Trouble in understanding others

  • Disoriented and lost

  • Inability to write 

  • Fine hand movements hampered

About 7% to 65% of people who have suffered from a stroke have complained of a headache initially. The headache is either at the start of the stroke or observed as a delayed headache.

Visit Manipal Hospital for brain stroke treatment in Bangalore.


A migraine is a type of recurrent headache that occurs in more than 213 million Indians. Migraine is often seen in females more than males, accounting for 60% of the cases. It is caused due to stress, hunger, caffeine, light, hormonal changes, and in some cases strong light. 


Migraine is usually characterized by throbbing or pulsating headaches. You will observe the following symptoms before the onset of a migraine headache

  • Mood changes

  • Constipation

  • Neck stiffness

  • Increased urination

  • Food cravings

  • Frequent yawning

  • Pain on one side of your head, occasionally both sides

  • Extreme sensitivity to light, sound, smell, and touch

  • Nausea

  • Vomiting

  • Unable to eat or drink anything

  • Unable to keep eyes open

  • Development of an Aura

An aura is a disturbing symptom that occurs before or during a migraine episode. Each symptom begins gradually, increases in intensity, and then lasts for about 60 minutes. 

Symptoms of aura include:

  • Visual changes - seeing various shapes, halo, bright spots, or sudden flashes of light

  • Vision loss

  • Pins and needles in your arms and legs

  • Weakness 

  • Numbness of the affected side of the face

A migraine headache typically lasts for a long time if left untreated. The frequency and intensity vary from person to person. 

Differentiating a stroke headache from a migraine attack

So, how to tell the difference between a migraine headache and a stroke-related headache?

Look for the following symptoms when you are suffering from a headache -

Signs to look for Stroke-related headache Migraine headache
Onset of symptoms Sudden Gradual
Progression of symptoms Painful right from the start Starts small and gets more painful
Type of symptoms Negative - Loss of vision, loss of sensation in hands and feet Positive - Added sensations like tingling numbness on your skin and flashes of vision
Type of headache Worst, like a thunderclap Throbbing, pulsating
Age More common in elderly More common in the younger age group
Past history If you have never had a migraine attack any time before, then it is most likely a stroke If you have a history of migraine, then it is mostly unrelated to a stroke
Medical conditions Associated with high blood pressure or irregular heartbeats Unrelated to any medical condition



Irrespective of the above symptoms, if you feel uneasy due to a headache, follow your gut feeling. Speak to your healthcare provider and get yourself checked for any possibility of a stroke.

If you are above 40 years of age and have never had a headache, then chances are that your headache may be due to an ongoing stroke. Consult your physician immediately or rush to the nearest hospital right away. This will help save your life and limit brain damage.

Manipal Hospital is the best neurology hospital in Bangalore having some of the best neurologist in Bangalore who have experience of more than 50 years altogether. 


Dr. Ajit Kumar Roy

Consultant - Neurology

Manipal Hospital, Old Airport Road, Bangalore