The Differences Between a Stroke and a Seizure

Doctor speaking with elderly man in hospital bed

Hero Images / Getty Images

The differences between a stroke and a seizure can be confusing. Both conditions involve the brain, both may be characterized by problems controlling physical movements, both conditions are not uncommon, and both involve unexpected episodes or brain 'attacks.'

They also each may be called by a few different names, which can add to the difficulty in distinguishing whether you may have had a stroke or a seizure. If you are not sure whether you or someone you take care of has had a seizure or a stroke, it is helpful to understand some of the differences, so that you will know what to expect.

Other Names for a Stroke

Other Names for a Seizure

  • Convulsions
  • Brain attacks 
  • Brain spells 
  • Brain fits
  • Spasms 

Epilepsy is the correct name for the medical condition in which people are prone to repeated seizures

What Is a Stroke?

A stroke is brain damage caused by interruption of blood supply to an area of the brain. After a region of the brain is damaged by a stroke, people often lose some of the physical or mental ability that is normally controlled by that region of the brain.

A stroke causes brain damage due to the brain's response to lack of blood supply.

What Is a Seizure?

A seizure is an electrical 'misfiring' of an area of the brain that causes uncontrollable physical movements or a change in consciousness.

Can a Stroke Turn Into a Seizure?

Since the lack of blood supply from a stroke permanently damages a portion of the brain, sometimes the area of the brain damaged by a stroke can eventually begin to misfire in the months or years after a stroke. This means that the brain damage caused by a stroke may result in seizures down the road.

Can a Seizure Turn Into a Stroke?

A seizure does not affect blood flow to the brain, and therefore a seizure does not cause a stroke.

Can a Stroke Result in Death?

About 15% of people who have a stroke do not survive. Death from a stroke is more likely when the stroke is a very large stroke, when it affects the brainstem or when it is a hemorrhagic stroke.

Can a Seizure Result in Death?

It is extremely rare for a seizure to cause death. However, a bodily injury that occurs during a seizure can result in serious injury or death. For example, if a person has a seizure while swimming, he could drown. If a person has a seizure while driving, she could get into an accident. If a person suffers a seizure and falls from a ladder, he may become severely injured.

Overdosing on anti-seizure medications can, in rare instances, cause death.

Medications for a Stroke

There are medications that can help prevent a stroke in people who have risk factors. Most of the stroke prevention medications are blood thinners.

There is no medication that can improve the brain damage caused by a stroke, although there is a great deal of research going on to find medications to help cure a stroke.

Medications for Seizures

There are many effective anti-seizure medications that are typically called anti-convulsants. These medications work by preventing over-activity of the electrical activity of the brain.

Using alcohol or drugs while taking anti-seizure medication can interfere with how the anti-seizure medications work, and can potentially cause a seizure.

What to Do If Someone Is Having a Stroke or a Seizure

If you think that someone may be having a stroke or a seizure, you should call for emergency help and try to stay with the person until medical professionals arrive. It would be helpful if you could describe what you saw to the emergency medical team. If you cannot remember or cannot describe it, do not worry; no one will blame you if you cannot describe the details.

Unless you are a trained professional, do not try to move a person who may be having a stroke or a seizure and do not try to give him any medicine or put anything in his mouth. It is a good idea to move sharp or dangerous objects away if you can.​​

A Word From Verywell

Some medical illnesses are similar to each other. Stroke and seizure are 2 conditions that most people confuse with each other. Overall, most people who have had a stroke or a seizure are able to lead healthy lives, but often need to follow up with medical care. If you are not sure whether you or a loved one has experienced a stroke or a seizure, knowing the difference can help you understand what to expect.

Was this page helpful?

Article Sources

Verywell Health uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial policy to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.