This study was conducted with the primary aim to distinguish patients with a true stroke versus a stroke mimic based on clinical features and imaging. We conducted a retrospective case-control study on 116 adult patients who received alteplase (tPA) to treat acute stroke at our hospital. We further analyzed 79 patients with a normal computed tomography angiography (CTA). Based on their magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) of the brain, they were divided into cases (stroke mimics) and controls (true strokes).

Data were collected retrospectively by reviewing individual medical charts on the electronic medical record (EMR), including age, gender, history of stroke, seizure, hypertension, diabetes, atrial fibrillation, hyperlipidemia, presenting NIH Stroke Scale/Score, hemorrhagic conversion, history of migraine, history of depression, sidedness of symptoms and aphasia. Data were categorized to separate those who were later diagnosed to be stroke mimics by being- postictal, encephalopathic, in acute migraine, suffered post-stroke recrudescence (PSR) due to metabolic insult, or had conversion disorder when symptoms could not be attributed to any medical condition or mental illness.

Of the 79 study subjects, 48(60%) were stroke mimics. The mean age of the cohort was 68.67 years, and 46.8% of the study subjects were females. Based on the multivariate logistic regression analysis, factors associated with being a stroke mimic were older age, history of migraine, and a history of prior stroke. In conclusion, increased attention to history and clinical examination as the first step can aid in the proper diagnosis of strokes versus stroke mimics.

Identifying stroke mimics early could help expedite hospital workup and prevent inadvertent investigations, reducing hospital occupancy during the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic. We could potentially avoid the administration of tPA to such patients, reducing both the cost and adverse effects of it. Every stroke can cause neurological deficits, but every deficit need not be a stroke.