A stroke is a serious life-threatening medical condition that occurs when the blood supply to part of the brain is cut off.

Strokes are a medical emergency and urgent treatment is essential.

The sooner a person receives treatment for a stroke, the less damage is likely to happen.

If you suspect that you or someone else is having a stroke, phone 999 immediately and ask for an ambulance.

Symptoms of a stroke

The main symptoms of stroke can be remembered with the word F.A.S.T.:

  • Face – the face may have dropped on one side, the person may not be able to smile, or their mouth or eye may have dropped.
  • Arms – the person with suspected stroke may not be able to lift both arms and keep them there because of weakness or numbness in one arm.
  • Speech – their speech may be slurred or garbled, or the person may not be able to talk at all despite appearing to be awake.
  • Time – it's time to dial 999 immediately if you see any of these signs or symptoms.

Read about the symptoms of a stroke.

Causes of a stroke

Like all organs, the brain needs the oxygen and nutrients provided by blood to function properly. If the supply of blood is restricted or stopped, brain cells begin to die. This can lead to brain injury, disability and possibly death.

There are two main causes of strokes:

  • ischaemic – where the blood supply is stopped because of a blood clot, accounting for 85% of all cases
  • haemorrhagic – where a weakened blood vessel supplying the brain bursts

There's also a related condition known as a transient ischaemic attack (TIA), where the blood supply to the brain is temporarily interrupted.

This causes what's known as a mini-stroke, often lasting between a few minutes and several hours.

TIAs should be treated urgently, as they're often a warning sign you're at risk of having a full stroke in the near future. Seek medical advice as soon as possible, even if your symptoms resolve.

Certain conditions increase the risk of having a stroke, including:

Read about the causes of strokes.

Treating a stroke

Treatment depends on the type of stroke you have, including which part of the brain was affected and what caused it.

Strokes are usually treated with medication. This includes medicines to prevent and dissolve blood clots, reduce blood pressure and reduce cholesterol levels.

In some cases, procedures may be required to remove blood clots. Surgery may also be required to treat brain swelling and reduce the risk of further bleeding in cases of haemorrhagic strokes.

Read more about diagnosing strokes and treating strokes.

Recovering from a stroke

People who survive a stroke are often left with long-term problems caused by injury to their brain.

Some people need a long period of rehabilitation before they can recover their former independence, while many never fully recover and need support adjusting to living with the effects of their stroke.

Local authorities should provide free reablement services for anyone assessed as needing them. These services help the person recovering from a stroke to learn or relearn the skills necessary for independent daily living at home.

Some people will be dependent on some form of care for help with their daily activities. For example, a care worker could come to the person's home to help with washing and dressing, or to provide companionship.

Read about:

If you're recovering from a stroke or caring for someone who is, it may be useful to read your guide to care and support. This is written for people with care and support needs, as well as their carers and relatives.

Preventing a stroke

You can significantly reduce your risk of having a stroke through leading a healthy lifestyle by:

If you have a condition that increases your risk of a stroke, it's important to manage it effectively – for example, by lowering high blood pressure or cholesterol levels with medication.

If you've had a stroke or TIA in the past, these measures are particularly important because your risk of having another stroke is greatly increased.

Read more about preventing strokes.

Stroke: an animation

This animation explains how a stroke happens, the different types of stroke and how lifestyle changes may help to reduce the risks.

Media last reviewed: 03/05/2016

Next review due: 03/08/2018

Page last reviewed: 07/02/2017

Next review due: 07/02/2019