Multiple sclerosis is a serious disease that, once developed, doesn’t go away. It’s a lifelong commitment to manage flare ups and the symptoms, especially since there is also no cure for it. Most patients experience the relapsing-remitting type of MS, which is a pattern of flare ups, followed by time for recovery. However, there are also progressive forms with constant, worsening symptoms.
What a lot of people don’t realize is that the symptoms of a stroke may at first look very much like multiple sclerosis. Because of the dangers of a stroke, it’s essential to be able to tell the difference, and it’s crucial to get medical attention immediately if a patient seems to be suffering a stroke. Without immediate attention, someone could die. So, how do you know one from the other?
What is a stroke?
A stroke is based on a lack of proper blood flow to the brain. Something stops the steady supply that typically flows through to the brain, and this means that it’s not getting the oxygen or the nutrients it requires to function properly. If this persists, the brain begins to die.
With areas of the brain dying or dead, bodily functions shut down. It could be motor skills that are lost, speech, or in some cases, organs fail. In those instances, the stroke is fatal. The problem is that, when a stroke occurs, the symptoms come of fairly quickly and can easily mirror what happens in a flare up of multiple sclerosis. How can a person tell the difference?
Stroke and multiple sclerosis: symptoms and similarities
It could be extremely difficult to know, at first, if a patient is suffering a stroke or if the symptoms are a sign that the patient has developed multiple sclerosis. That’s because many of the initial symptoms of a stroke easily mimic those of MS, including;
- Headache, dizziness, and or lightheadedness
- Numbness and tingling in the limbs or face
- Difficulty walking and sometimes issues involving other movements
- Problems with speech, especially slurred speech
- Vision issues, such as blurriness or loss of vision
- Feelings of confusion or difficulty maintaining focus and thinking normally
It is especially important for those who already have multiple sclerosis to recognize the difference between a flare up and a stroke. But with the two being so much alike in terms of symptoms, how is that possible?
Stroke and multiple sclerosis: conditions and differences
Of course, if there is any suspicion that the symptoms could mean a stroke, it’s imperative to call 9-1-1 for assistance. It’s better to be cautious than to suffer extensive damage from the stroke. However, it’s even better to know the difference and prepare. Several risk factors for stroke can be avoided based on lifestyle, reducing the danger from the start.
- Being overweight, especially obese, significantly increases the risk of a stroke.
- If a patient isn’t active physically, they could be at a higher risk.
- Drinking heavily and using drugs increases the chances of suffering a stroke.
- Smoking or being around secondhand smoke increases the risk.
- Those with high blood pressure, high cholesterol, cardiovascular disease, or obstructive sleep apnea all face a greater chance of having a stroke.
- Having a family member who has had a stroke or heart attack increases the risk factor.
- Males, African Americans, and people over the age of fifty-five are at the highest risk.
- Women taking birth control or hormone therapies are at a slightly higher risk.
By comparison, multiple sclerosis is far more common in women and Caucasians, and most cases of the disease are diagnosed between the ages of eighteen and forty. Also, while an MS flare up will likely involve symptoms such as muscle spasms, bladder control problems, and bowel issues, patients won’t see these with a stroke.
Keep in mind that some of the physical factors that increase the risk of stroke also exacerbate symptoms of multiple sclerosis. Some things that can help avoid a stroke and also make sure a patient with MS is healthy include;
- Maintaining a healthy weight – Being obese puts people at a very high risk of stroke. In addition, excess weight increases pain and decreases mobility in multiple sclerosis. In order to maintain independence and motion control, patients with MS should maintain a healthy weight.
- Stay active – Exercising on a regular basis significantly reduces the possibility of a stroke and helps keep patients with MS from gaining weight, as well as reducing stiffness and inflammation, if done with supervision.
- Eat right – High blood pressure and high cholesterol can lead to stroke, and they can both be triggers for more frequent MS relapses.
To note the difference between the appearance of multiple sclerosis and the onset of a stroke, start by knowing more about flare ups. A patient’s MS flare ups may not be exactly the same every time, but they’ll usually stick to a pattern, which can make them easier to identify. Also, note that, while flare ups can come on suddenly, the symptoms usually build over at least a few hours. With a stroke, the symptoms appear all at once, seemingly out of nowhere. Also, look for any symptoms that are not typical of a flare up. In relapsing-remitting multiple sclerosis, it’s rare for patients to develop new symptoms they haven’t experienced in the past, so this could point to stroke as the culprit.
Keeping track of flare ups of multiple sclerosis can help a patient with the disease identify if their symptoms are off, alerting them to the possibility of a stroke. For those who don’t have MS, considering the risk factors for each condition could help determine the difference, despite the similarities in an onset. If there is any doubt, it’s important to get medical assistance immediately, as strokes can lead to paralysis, speech and swallowing impediment, memory loss, difficulty thinking, changes to emotions and control of them, and constant pain, as well as being fatal. It isn’t uncommon for someone who suffers a stroke to no longer be able to care for themselves. Being vigilant about any odd symptoms could help a patient get to the bottom of the issue before it causes extensive damage.