Migraine as a Stroke Mimic and as a Stroke Chameleon

  • Oleg Otlivanchik
  • Ava L. LibermanEmail author
Secondary Headache (M Robbins, Section Editor)
Part of the following topical collections:
  1. Topical Collection on Secondary Headache


Purpose of Review

This review details the frequency of and ways in which migraine can be both an ischemic stroke/transient ischemic attack mimic (false positive) and chameleon (false negative). We additionally seek to clarify the complex relationships between migraine and cerebrovascular diseases with regard to diagnostic error.

Recent Findings

Nearly 2% of all patients evaluated emergently for possible stroke have an ultimate diagnosis of migraine; approximately 18% of all stroke mimic patients treated with intravenous thrombolysis have a final diagnosis of migraine. Though the treatment of a patient with migraine with thrombolytics confers a low risk of complication, symptomatic intracerebral hemorrhage may occur. Three clinical prediction scores with high sensitivity and specificity exist that can aid in the diagnosis of acute cerebral ischemia. Differentiating between migraine aura and transient ischemic attacks remains challenging. On the other hand, migraine is a common incorrect diagnosis initially given to patients with stroke. Among patients discharged from an emergency visit to home with a diagnosis of a non-specific headache disorder, 0.5% were misdiagnosed. Further development of tools to quantify and understand sources of stroke misdiagnosis among patients who present with headache is warranted.


Both failure to identify cerebral ischemia among patients with headache and overdiagnosis of ischemia can lead to patient harms. While some tools exist to help with acute diagnostic decision-making, additional strategies to improve diagnostic safety among patients with migraine and/or cerebral ischemia are needed.


Acute ischemic stroke Diagnostic error Stroke mimic Migraine Migraine with aura 


Compliance with Ethical Standards

Conflict of Interest

Dr. Otlivanchik declares no conflict of interest. Dr. Liberman receives research support from NIH grant K23NS107643.

Human and Animal Rights and Informed Consent

This article does not contain any studies with human or animal subjects performed by any of the authors.


Papers of particular interest, published recently, have been highlighted as: • Of importance •• Of major importance

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© Springer Science+Business Media, LLC, part of Springer Nature 2019

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of Neurology, Montefiore Medical CenterAlbert Einstein College of MedicineBronxUSA

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