Skip to navigation

NHS Choices
Search NHS Choices:

About stroke 

What is a stroke?

A stroke is a ‘brain attack’ caused by a disturbance of the blood supply to the brain.

There are two main types of stroke, which require different types of treatment:

Ischaemic stroke
The most common form of stroke. It is caused by a clot narrowing or blocking blood vessels so that blood cannot reach a particular area of the brain. This leads to the death of brain cells due to lack of oxygen.
Haemorrhagic stroke
Caused when a weakened blood vessel in the brain bursts. This produces bleeding into the brain, which leads to damage.

What is a TIA (mini-stroke)?

Transient ischaemic attack (TIA) is also called 'mini-stroke'. It is similar to a stroke and has the same signs, but gets better within 24 hours. However, it could be a warning sign of a more serious stroke and it is vital that it gets the same F.A.S.T. action by calling 999.

Watch real people share their stories about TIA.

Media last reviewed: 03/02/2015

Next review due: 03/02/2017

Why you must Act F.A.S.T.

A stroke is a medical emergency that requires immediate medical attention. So recognising the signs of stroke and calling 999 for an ambulance is crucial. The sooner somebody who is having a stroke gets urgent medical attention, the better their chances of a good recovery.

Rapid diagnosis of TIA (mini-stroke) allows urgent steps to be taken to reduce the risk of having a stroke.

Reducing your risk

Some people are more at risk of having a stroke if they also have certain other medical conditions. These include:

  • High blood pressure
  • High cholesterol
  • Atrial fibrillation (an irregular heartbeat)
  • Diabetes

It is important that these conditions are carefully monitored and treated.

The risk of having a stroke is higher amongst people in certain ethnic groups, including South Asian, African and Caribbean. This is partly because high blood pressure and diabetes are more common in these groups.

There are also lifestyle factors that may increase the risk of having a stroke. They include:

  • Smoking
  • Being overweight
  • Lack of exercise
  • Poor diet
  • Exceeding the recommended daily alcohol limit.

Knowing your units will help you stay in control of your drinking. To reduce your risk of harming your health if you drink most weeks:

  • men and women are advised not to regularly drink more than 14 units a week
  • spread your drinking over three days or more if you drink as much as 14 units a week

Leading a healthy, active lifestyle is vital to help reduce your risk of having a stroke.

Want to know more about stroke?

Help us to spread the message

  • We are looking for organisations of all sizes to help us spread the Act F.A.S.T. message. To find out how, contact us.

Tell us your story

  • If you or someone you know has recognised the signs of stroke by acting F.A.S.T., contact us with your story.