Stroke and your heart

Doctor uses stethoscopeYour brain needs a constant supply of blood to work properly.  A stroke happens when the blood supply to part of your brain is cut off, causing your brain cells to become damaged or die.

The two most common types of stroke are ischaemic and haemorrhagic stroke.

  • Ischaemic strokes happen when the artery that supplies blood to your brain is blocked, for example by a blood clot.
  • Haemorrhagic strokes happen when a blood vessel bursts and bleeds into
    your brain, damaging brain tissue and starving some of your brain cells of blood and oxygen.

Without a constant blood supply, your brain cells will be damaged or die, which can affect the way your body and mind work.

What should I do if I think someone is having a stroke?

Act F.A.S.T to recognise the symptoms.

  • Facial weakness - can they smile? Has their mouth or eye drooped?
  • Arm weakness - can they raise both arms?
  • Speech problems – can they speak clearly and can they understand what you are saying?
  • Time to call 999

What is a mini-stroke or TIA?

A transient ischaemic attack (also called a TIA or mini-stroke) happens when there is a temporary blockage in the blood supply to the brain. A TIA doesn’t cause permanent damage to your brain and the symptoms usually pass within 24 hours.

It’s often hard to tell the difference between a stroke or TIA, so if you think someone is having a TIA you should still call 999. A TIA can be an important warning that there is a problem with the blood supply to your brain.

How is stroke related to heart disease?

Coronary heart disease (angina and heart attack) and stroke can be caused by the same problem – atherosclerosis.  This is when your arteries become narrowed by a gradual build-up of fatty material (called atheroma) within their walls.

If a piece of atheroma breaks away from one of your arteries it will lead to a blood clot forming.

  • If the blood clot blocks an artery to your heart and cuts off the blood supply to your heart muscle, this is a heart attack.
  • If the blood clot blocks  an artery to your brain and cuts of the blood supply, this is an ischaemic stroke.

If you have atrial fibrillation (AF) your risk of stroke is increased by around four to five times.  This is because AF increases the risk of a blood clot forming inside the chambers of your heart.  This clot can travel through your bloodstream and block the blood supply to your brain - causing a stroke.

What are the risk factors for stroke?

A risk factor is something that that increases your likelihood of getting a disease. The more risk factors you have, the more likely you are to have a stroke.

Take a look at our cardiovascular disease page to find out about the risk factors for stroke and other cardiovascular diseases such as coronary heart disease.

Find out more

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