Is eye twitching a sign of a stroke?
Eye twitching occurs when there's a problem with the muscles that control eyelid movement: One muscle in the face opens the eyelid and another one closes it. While this rapid, involuntary blinking of the eye in many ways remains a mystery, it is often caused by stress, dry eye, caffeine consumption, smoking or fatigue.
In rare cases, and when accompanied by other symptoms, an eyelid twitch can be a sign of a serious medical condition that affects the brain and central nervous system, including a stroke or transient ischemic attack (also called a mini-stroke or TIA).
Stroke vs. TIA
A stroke happens when the blood that brings oxygen to the brain stops flowing or is reduced. Brain cells begin dying within minutes. The National Stroke Association reports that nearly 795,000 people in the U.S. experience a stroke each year.
A TIA begins like a stroke, but the blockage is only temporary and blood flow returns on its own, typically within a few minutes or hours. However, a mini-stroke should not be taken lightly; in many cases, a full-blown stroke isn’t far behind. According to the National Stroke Association:
A TIA occurs before around 12% of all strokes.
One study found that about 12% of people who experience a TIA die within one year.
Around 9% to 17% of people who have a TIA will suffer a stroke within 90 days.
No matter how quickly it resolves, a TIA is an emergency that requires immediate medical attention.
Stroke signs and symptoms
While eye twitching alone is usually not cause for concern, it can be a sign of a stroke or TIA if it occurs alongside other common stroke symptoms. One easy way to remember and recognize those symptoms is to use the BE FAST acronym:
Balance – Sudden dizziness, vertigo, headache, or loss of balance or coordination
Face – Drooping or numbness on one side of the face, or an uneven or lopsided smile
Arm – Weakness or numbness in one arm or leg
Speech – Slurred speech or difficulty speaking or understanding
Time – If you see someone with these symptoms, call 911. Every minute counts.
Seeking immediate medical care is key because stroke treatment is most effective when administered within hours of symptom onset.
SEE RELATED: Is eye twitching a sign of multiple sclerosis?
Why your eye is twitching
If your eye is twitching and you don’t have any other symptoms, don’t panic. Common eye twitching causes include:
Eye twitches typically resolve on their own within a few hours or days, but you may be able to get rid of an eye twitch sooner by addressing the underlying cause.
Treatment options — such as stress management techniques, improved sleep habits, reduced caffeine and alcohol consumption, an updated eyeglass or contact lens prescription, artificial tears, healthier foods, allergen avoidance and smoking cessation — may help in your quest for relief.
When to see a doctor
An eyelid twitch is usually benign, but there are some cases where medical care is required. Don’t hesitate to contact your eye doctor if:
Your eye twitch continues for more than a week
There is discharge, redness or swelling in or around the eye
The eyelid twitch closes the eye completely
Other parts of your face are affected (especially on one side)
The upper eyelid droops
You experience eye pain
You also have symptoms of a stroke — in this case, call 911 rather than your eye doctor
The only way to determine the cause of your symptoms is to be tested by medical professionals, even if the symptoms have resolved. If a stroke or TIA is responsible, taking early action to get prompt evaluation and immediate treatment can reduce brain damage, improve chances of recovery, and help prevent serious complications, including a future stroke.
READ MORE: When to worry about eye twitching
Page updated January 2021