NHS Health Check

Helping you prevent heart disease, stroke, diabetes, kidney disease and dementia


Stroke is one of the main vascular diseases

A stroke happens when the blood supply to part of the brain is cut off. A stroke is a medical emergency: the faster treatment is given, the better the chance of recovery. If you suspect a stroke, call 999.

Stroke is the main cause of disability in the UK and is the third most common cause of death (after cancer and coronary heart disease).

We're all at some risk of having a stroke, but many strokes can be prevented through small and long-term changes to your lifestyle. At your NHS Health Check, your risk of stroke will be assessed, then you'll be given advice and support to help you reduce that risk.

What happens during a stroke?

Blood carries oxygen and nutrients around our body. Every organ in our body needs a constant supply of blood in order to work properly.

Like other arteries, the arteries that supply the brain with blood can become blocked or damaged. This usually happens when fatty deposits in the blood stick to the walls of the arteries. This makes them narrower and can cause blood clots, which block the arteries.

When someone has a stroke, the blood supply to the brain is interrupted due to blocked or damaged arteries. The brain can’t work properly, causing a range of symptoms.

Only hospital tests can confirm that a stroke has occurred. But the F.A.S.T. test can help you recognise a stroke in someone else. This is what to check for:

  • Face: has their face fallen on one side? Can they smile?
  • Arms: can they raise both arms?
  • Speech: is their speech slurred, garbled or impaired?
  • Time: time to call 999 if you see any of these signs

Learn more in Stroke.

Avoiding a stroke

Some risk factors for a stroke are things that we can’t change about ourselves. You're more likely to have a stroke if:

  • you're over 65
  • you've previously had a stroke or heart attack
  • there's a history of stroke in your family
  • you're of south Asian, African or Caribbean descent

But most of the risk factors for stroke are things we can change. You're more likely to have a stroke if:

  • you have high blood pressure
  • you have high cholesterol
  • you smoke
  • you're overweight or obese
  • you're physically inactive
  • you drink more than the recommended amount of alcohol

Learn more about preventing a stroke.

Take action

At your NHS Health Check you will have a discussion with your GP (or health professional). This will include a discussion of test results that are relevant to your risk of stroke, such as blood pressure, cholesterol and body mass index (BMI).

Whatever your results, your GP will give you information and advice on adopting a healthy lifestyle, which will help to minimise your risk of stroke and other vascular diseases.

If your risk is higher, you may be offered treatments that will help, such as medicines to lower blood pressure. You may also be offered support (free on the NHS) to help you stop smoking or lose weight.

Learn more in NHS Health Check: take action.

Page last reviewed: 15/05/2013

Next review due: 15/05/2015



Someone has a stroke every five minutes in the UK, and strokes are the third most common cause of death. The cause varies from person to person but it's important to know what your personal risk factors are.

Media last reviewed: 14/11/2013

Next review due: 14/11/2015

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