Stroke

Brain scan

A stroke happens when the blood supply to part of your brain is cut off, causing your brain cells to become damaged or die.

A stroke is a life-threatening medical emergency. If you or anyone else is having a stroke, you should phone 999 for an ambulance immediately.

If you notice signs of a stroke - call 999

Act F.A.S.T to recognise the signs:

  • 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're saying?
  • Time – it's time to call 999 immediately if you see any of these symptoms.

What is a stroke?

During a stroke, brain cells in an affected part of your brain are damaged because they don’t get the oxygen and nutrients they need from your blood. This can affect your speech, as well as the way you think and move.

Types of stroke:

  • ischaemic strokes happen when an artery that supplies blood to your brain becomes blocked by a blood clot. The artery may already have become narrowed, so the blood clot cuts off the blood supply completely.
  • haemorrhagic strokes happen when a blood vessel ruptures causing a bleed inside the brain. This affects all the surrounding brain cells causing them to die.
  • mini-strokes, or transient ischaemic attacks (TIAs), happen when there is a brief reduction in blood supply to part of the brain causing symptoms, such as temporary speech loss. A single occurrence doesn’t cause permanent damage to your brain and the symptoms usually pass within 24 hours. A person may have several TIAs over time, which means different parts of the brain can be affected. It can be difficult to tell the difference between a stroke and a TIA, so if you think someone is having a TIA you should call 999.

What increases my chance of having a stroke?

A risk factor is something that increases your chance of developing a condition. You are at much greater risk if you have several contributing factors such as smoking, uncontrolled diabetes, high blood pressure or high cholesterol.

Risk factors for stroke are similar to those for heart diseases, such as angina or heart attacks. The good news is that most of these risk factors are modifiable – this means you can do something about them.

If you have an untreated, irregular heart rhythm called 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 top chambers of your heart. This clot can travel to your brain and block an artery. 

What will happen to me in hospital?

You'll have a brain scan very soon after arriving at the hospital. If you've had a stroke, you will be closely monitored and given medication. The length of time you stay in hospital depends on your initial treatment, your general health and how quickly you are able to get up and about.

It’s very common after suffering a stroke to feel anxious and experience feelings of loneliness, anger and depression, but your medical team will be aware of this. It’s fine to ask for help and if you think you’ll need support when you go home, there are people you can talk to.

The Stroke Association has more detailed information on what happens to people with a stroke in hospital, including tests and treatment. 

What will my recovery from stroke be like?

A stroke affects people in different ways. You’re likely to see the most improvement in the first few weeks of your recovery, usually while you're still in hospital. But it may take months or even years.

Your rehabilitation will begin in hospital where a team of specialists, such as specialist nurses, physiotherapists and occupational therapists. They’ll discuss with you and your family what help you’ll need. The aim of rehabilitation is to help you live as independently as you can, once you go home.

If you’ve had a stroke, you may be at increased risk of developing vascular dementia. This happens when a stroke damages areas of your brain responsible for things like how you think and decision making. It may be helpful to learn more about vascular dementia . If you have any concerns you should speak to your GP.

Stroke is sudden and can be devastating, but for some people, there are new horizons beyond it. Watch our video to hear Mark and Paul talking about life after a stroke, read Ken's story of learning to communicate again after a stroke and read how staying active after a stroke helped Margaret with her recovery.  

Stroke - your quick guideStroke - your quick guide

This short illustrated leaflet explains the symptoms, causes and types of stroke. It tells you what you might expect from your recovery and explains how stroke and heart disease are linked. It's suitable for you if you've had a stroke or have been told you are at risk of having one.

Order or download 

Caring for someone who’s had a stroke

You may be looking after someone because they’ve recently had a stroke. The amount of support they’ll need will depend on the impact of the stroke and their recovery.

There’s lots of information and support to help you if you’ve taken on a caring role, including:

  • information on managing their condition and reducing the risk of further events
  • tips on adapting to any needs they may have, such as communication and mobility aids
  • emotional and peer-to-peer support from people in a similar situation or support services
  • financial help and information on how to access a carers’ assessment
  • advice on how to talk to friends, family, healthcare professionals, or your employer. 

If you’re looking after someone, it’s just as important to look after your own health and wellbeing. You might need practical or emotional support of your own. Order or download our Caring for someone booklet to find out more.

Find out more

Beating heartbreak from stroke

Every day 670 people go to hospital because of a stroke. The condition causes 38,000 deaths in the UK each year.

Thanks to our supporters we are the UK’s major independent funder of cardiovascular research, which includes vital stroke research. But more needs to be done. Our researchers are looking to change the story for people who've had a stroke by researching new clot busting treatments. 

Find out more