An eyelid twitch is typically harmless. In rare cases, eyelid twitching can signal a serious neurological condition, including stroke.
When is Eye Twitching a Sign of Stroke?
If eye twitching is the only symptom, it’s not a sign of a stroke. However, an eyelid twitch accompanied by other symptoms can signal a stroke or transient ischemic attack (TIA).
What is a Stroke?
A stroke happens when blood flow to part of the brain gets blocked or interrupted. Because blood carries oxygen and nutrients to the brain, this interruption causes brain cells to die within minutes.
If brain damage affects the cells involved in coordination and movement, eye twitching is likely to occur.
A stroke is a medical emergency that can lead to serious complications, including:
- Brain damage
According to heart disease and stroke statistics, about 800,000 people experience a stroke each year in the U.S. alone.6
What is a TIA?
TIA, also known as a mini-stroke, begins the same way as a stroke. Unlike a stroke, the blockage in a TIA is temporary.
Normal blood flow resumes on its own, usually within a few minutes or hours. However, a TIA must be taken seriously. Often, a TIA is a warning sign of a possible future stroke.
Other Signs and Symptoms of a Stroke
According to The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), time is critical in the event of a stroke.7 Seek emergency medical attention if you experience any of the symptoms below:
- Numbness or drooping on one side of the face
- Numbness or weakness in the arms and legs, especially on one side of the body
- Difficulty speaking or understanding speech
- Sudden blurred vision, double vision, or vision loss in one or both eyes
- Sudden dizziness, trouble with coordination, or loss of balance
- Severe headache
Knowing these signs and symptoms will help you identify a stroke and act fast. If you suspect someone has a stroke, think of the word F.A.S.T. to help you perform a quick test illustrated below:
- F—Face. Check if one side of the face is drooping, especially the eyelids.
- A—Arms. Ask them to raise both hands and observe if one is weak (drifts downwards).
- S—Speech. Ask them a question and check for slurred/strange speech or difficulty understanding.
- T—Time. Every minute counts. Call 911 immediately for emergency assistance.
Common Causes of Eye Twitching
The two common types of eye twitches are:
- Eyelid myokymia
- Benign essential blepharospasm (BEB)
Eyelid myokymia is the most common and may be due to abnormal signals in your brain or eye muscles.2 The condition is mild, occasional, and does not require treatment.
Common triggers include:
- Alcohol intake
- Eye strain
- Lack of sleep
- Poor nutrition
- Light sensitivity (photophobia)
- Dry/irritated eyes
- Certain medications, such as those prescribed for Parkinson's disease
- Caffeine (coffee)
- Eye trauma
- Low or high blood pressure
- Eye conditions such as blepharitis, uveitis, and corneal abrasion
Benign Essential Blepharospasm (BEB)
Benign essential blepharospasm is persistent eye muscle contractions that may cause visual disturbances.3
BEB is common among middle-aged and elderly women. It often affects both eyes (bilateral) and may require long-term treatment.
Symptoms of benign essential blepharospasm include:
- Frequent or forced blinking
- Light sensitivity
- Prolonged eyelid closure
- Worsening eye irritation due to bright lights, fatigue, stress, and allergies
- Upper eyelid droops
Nervous System Disorders
In rare cases, some brain and nervous system disorders may cause twitching eyes, including:
- Bell's palsy5
- Cervical dystonia
- Oromandibular dystonia and facial dystonia
- Multiple sclerosis
- Parkinson's disease
- Tourette syndrome
- Hemifacial spasm
Severe cases of twitching eyes may result in prolonged eyelid closure (up to several hours at a time). Although your vision may remain unaffected, prolonged closure can cause functional blindness.
When to Seek Medical Attention
Eyelid twitching often goes away on its own. This is especially true if triggers such as stress or alcohol are removed. Seek emergency medical care if you suspect a stroke, even if the signs are mild.
Also, call your eye doctor if you experience:
- Persistent eyelid twitching that lasts a few weeks
- Complete closure of the eyelids and difficulty opening the eyes after each twitch
- Eye twitching is accompanied by twitching in other parts of the body.
- Swollen or red eyes
- Discharge from eyes
- Droopy eyelids
How to Stop Eye Twitching
When unrelated to a stroke, mild cases of twitching eyelids often resolve without intervention.
However, there are some things you can do to facilitate the process:
- Get enough sleep
- Reduce alcohol intake
- Reduce caffeine consumption
- Avoid stress
- Engage in stress-reducing activities such as exercise
- Use artificial tears to treat dry eyes
Eye twitching is common and harmless in most people but can sometimes signal a serious condition. Common causes include:
- Light sensitivity
- Certain medications
- Some brain and central nervous system (CNS) disorders such as Bell's palsy, Parkinson's disease, and multiple sclerosis
Eye twitching is a common stroke symptom due to damage to the brain cells responsible for coordination and movement.
Experts advise seeking immediate medical attention if eye twitching is accompanied by:
- Symptoms of a stroke
- Prolonged twitching
- Drooping upper eyelids
- Complete closure of the eyes
- Eye discharge
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