Because both multiple sclerosis (MS) and stroke involve the brain, they can be easily confused because they can both cause similar symptoms. However, they are very different diseases with different causes. I answered this question for Heather on Twitter:
MS is an autoimmune disease that affects nerve tissue. The person goes through periods of MS attacks, where certain parts of the nervous system stop working because of excess inflammation. Depending on the part of the nervous system that is damaged, you feel symptoms like loss of vision, personality changes, or loss of sensation in parts of your body.
Strokes also affect the nervous system; however, it has a different cause. It’s usually caused by a blood clot or a leak in one of your blood vessels. This can cut off blood flow to the brain and cause parts of your brain to stop working, which can cause similar problems.
It’s very hard to tell the difference between a stroke and an MS flare on your own, some neurologic symptoms (like loss of pain and temperature sensation) are very difficult to record without the aid of a physician.
If you think you may be experiencing the signs of a stroke, call 911 and get emergency care immediately. Don’t wait; if you wait too long, you risk permanent brain damage.