Acute alcohol intoxication may cause delay in stroke treatment - case reports

BMC Neurol. 2019 Jan 29;19(1):14. doi: 10.1186/s12883-019-1241-6.


Background: The signs and symptoms of acute alcohol intoxication resemble those of vertebrobasilar stroke. Due to their shared symptoms including double vision, nystagmus, dysarthria, and ataxia, the differential diagnosis of alcohol intoxication and vertebrobasilar stroke may pose a challenge. Moreover, if alcohol intoxication and stroke occur simultaneously, the signs and symptoms of stroke may be attributed to the effects of alcohol, leading to delayed stroke diagnosis and failure to perform reperfusion therapy.

Case presentations: Three cases of alcohol intoxication and stroke are presented. The first patient (female, 50 years old) had dysarthria, nystagmus and trunk ataxia on admission. Her blood alcohol level was 2.3‰. The symptoms improved after forced diuresis, but 5.5 h later progression was observed, and the patient developed diplopia and dysphagia in addition to her initial symptoms. Angiography showed occlusion of the basilar artery. Intraarterial thrombolysis was performed. The second patient (male, 62 years old) developed diplopia, dysarthria and trunk ataxia after consuming 4-units of alcohol, and his symptoms were attributed to alcohol intoxication. Two hours later, neurological examination revealed dysphagia and mild right-sided hemiparesis, which questioned the causal relationship between the symptoms and alcohol consumption. Cerebral CT was negative, and intravenous thrombolysis was administered. The third patient (male, 55 years old) consumed 10 units of alcohol before falling asleep. Three hours later, his relatives tried to wake him up. He was unresponsive, which was attributed to alcohol intoxication. When he woke up 8 h later, right-sided hemiparesis and aphasia were observed, and cerebral CT already revealed irreversible ischemic changes.

Conclusions: Our cases show that alcohol consumption may interfere with stroke diagnosis by mimicking the signs and symptoms of vertebrobasilar stroke. Moreover, attributing the symptoms of stroke to alcohol intoxication may delay stroke diagnosis resulting in failure of reperfusion therapy. Based on our observations we conclude that stroke should be considered in the case of worsening symptoms, dysphagia, hemiparesis and disproportionately severe signs that cannot be attributed to the amount of alcohol consumed. In the case of ambiguity, ambulance should be called, and if stroke cannot be excluded, specific therapy should be administered.

Keywords: Alcohol intoxication; Diagnostic errors; Stroke; Thrombolytic therapy.

Publication types

  • Case Reports

MeSH terms

  • Alcoholic Intoxication / complications*
  • Alcoholic Intoxication / diagnosis*
  • Diagnosis, Differential
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Stroke / complications*
  • Stroke / diagnosis*
  • Stroke / therapy
  • Thrombolytic Therapy / methods
  • Time-to-Treatment