A stroke happens when the blood supply to part of the brain is cut off. A stroke is a serious condition that needs immediate medical treatment. If untreated, a stroke can cause brain injury, disability and even death.

What can cause a stroke

A stroke occurs when the blood flow to your brain is interrupted, causing brain cells to die through lack of oxygen.

Ischaemic stroke

An ischaemic stroke  happens when a blood vessel to the brain becomes blocked by a clot.

Haemorrhagic stroke

This is a brain haemorrhage caused by a blood vessel bursting and blood leaking into the brain.  It's more likely if you have high blood pressure.

Symptoms of stroke

Stroke symptoms can affect:

  • face
  • arms
  • speech


The person's face may drop on one side. They might not be able to smile or their mouth or eye may have dropped.


They may not be able to lift one or both arms and keep their arms lifted due to weakness or numbness.


Their speech may be slurred or garbled. They may not be able to talk even if they're awake.


You need to telephone 999 immediately if you see any of these signs or symptoms.

Discovering if you are at risk

You are at greater risk from a stroke if you are:

  • older
  • male
  • someone in your immediate family had a stroke
  • Asian, African or African-Caribbean

You are at risk if you have or had:

You may be at risk if you:

  • smoke
  • drink alcohol excessively
  • eat a lot of saturated animal fats
  • do less than 30 minutes of exercise five times a week
  • take cocaine or heroin or took these in the past

Young people don't usually have strokes. But you're at risk of a stroke if you:

Helping prevent a stroke

You can lower your risk of having a stroke by:

  • eating at least five portions of fruit and vegetables a day
  • lowering your salt intake
  • taking regular exercise
  • not drinking more than the daily recommended amount of alcohol
  • quitting smoking
  • taking a daily aspirin if you have diabetes
  • having your blood pressure checked regularly

Your GP can prescribe :

  • blood pressure-lowering medication
  • anticoagulant (blood-thinning) treatment if you have atrial fibrillation
  • Your local doctor (GP)

Having a mini-stroke

If you have a mini-stroke or transient ischaemic attack (TIA), it is important to see your doctor.

A stroke is temporary and lasts a few minutes with symptoms resolving within 24 hours. It's often a warning sign that you could experience a full-blown stroke. You can get treatment to prevent a serious stroke happening.

See your GP as soon as possible and ask to be referred to a specialist stroke service. This should happen within seven days.

The effects of a stroke

A stroke can result in death or leave sufferers with a disability causing them difficulties:

  • talking
  • walking
  • performing other basic tasks

Getting treatment quickly can reduce the effects of a stroke.

Diagnosing a stroke

A computerised tomography (CT) scan should be carried out within 24 hours of admission to determine whether the stroke is ischaemic or haemorrhagic.

Diagnosed with an ischaemic stroke

If you have an ischaemic stroke, you might need to take blood-thinning or clot-busting drugs. You might also need a carotid endarterectomy operation. In severe cases, you may need emergency surgery or medicine for brain swelling.

Diagnosed with a haemorrhagic stroke

If high blood pressure caused you to have a haemorrhagic stroke, you will get medicine:

  • to lower blood pressure
  • to prevent further strokes

Some people also need surgery:

  • to remove any blood from the brain
  • to repair any burst blood vessels


The information on this page was provided by the Department of Health.

For further information please see terms and conditions.

This page was reviewed July 2017

This page is due for review April 2018

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