Expert reviewer, Dr Ahamad Hassan, Consultant Neurologist and Stroke Physician
Next review due March 2022

A stroke is when the blood supply to your brain is cut off. Around 1.2 million people are living with the consequences of a stroke in the UK. Most people who have a stroke are over 65, but it can happen at any age. Stroke is a leading cause of disability in the UK. It's vital to recognise signs of a stroke quickly and get treatment in hospital as soon as possible. Stroke is a preventable and treatable health condition so it’s also important to understand how you can reduce your risk.

An older couple looking at a computer

Types of stroke

There are different strokes that are classified according to what causes a stroke.

  • Ischaemic stroke. This happens when the blood supply to part of your brain is blocked by a blood clot or a clump of fatty material. It’s the most common type.
  • Haemorrhagic stroke. This is caused by bleeding inside or around your brain that can happen when a blood vessel bursts.

What increases my risk of having a stroke?

Things that can increase your chance of having a stroke include:

  • smoking
  • high blood pressure
  • high cholesterol
  • not doing enough exercise
  • being overweight or obese
  • regularly drinking too much alcohol
  • using illegal drugs, such as cocaine
  • diabetes
  • a family history of stroke
  • atrial fibrillation (an abnormal heartbeat)
  • conditions that affect how your blood clots, such as haemophilia
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Complications of stroke

While some strokes can be quite mild and you soon recover, others can be more severe and cause lasting damage. Some can even be fatal.

Complications that can happen after a stroke can include:

  • weakness or paralysis, often on one side of your body
  • difficulty swallowing
  • feeling tired and problems sleeping
  • problems with your speech, reading and writing
  • problems with your sight – you might have double vision or find it hard to see
  • problems with thinking, and memory, and difficulty concentrating
  • difficulty controlling your bladder and bowel movements (incontinence or constipation)
  • changes in your behaviour
  • anxiety and depression
  • pain (this may be in your shoulder)
  • seizures (fits)

How to recognise stroke – FAST

Stroke symptoms usually come on suddenly, within seconds or minutes. A good way to recognise the signs of a stroke is to use the ‘FAST’ test.

  • Face. If you’ve had a stroke, your face may feel weak and you won’t be able to smile. Your face may also look odd – your mouth or eye may droop down on one side.
  • Arms. You won’t be able to raise your arms and hold them there.
  • Speech. You may have slurred speech or find it difficult to remember the names of common objects.
  • Time to call 999. If you have one or more of these symptoms, or you see them in someone else, get emergency help straightaway.

Other symptoms of stroke vary depending on the type of stroke and the part of your brain it affects. For more information, see our topics on haemorrhagic stroke and ischaemic stroke.

Recovering from stroke

You might need to take medicines or have an operation after a stroke, but it will depend on which type of stroke you have. For more information, see our topics on haemorrhagic stroke and ischaemic stroke.

A stroke can damage your brain so you may need to relearn how to do certain things, or adapt how you do them. This is known as stroke rehabilitation. A multidisciplinary team of health professionals will work out a rehabilitation plan that’s designed to help you regain as much independence as possible. 

Here are some suggestions that may help you while you recover.

  • Try to think positively and focus on what you want to achieve.
  • Practise the exercises and tasks you’re given but don't overdo them– some days will be easier than others.
  • If you’re not sure why you’ve been asked to do some exercises and tasks, ask. This will help you to stay motivated.
  • Keep in mind that your recovery may be gradual. Don’t be put off if it feels like you’re making slow progress.
  • Get help when you need it but try to do as much as you can for yourself. Some tasks may seem difficult, but the more you can do on your own, the more independent you’ll become.

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Related information

Tools and calculators

    • Cerebrovascular events. PatientPlus., last checked 27 January 2017
    • Stroke and TIA. NICE Clinical Knowledge Summaries., last revised March 2017
    • National clinical guideline for stroke. Royal College of Physicians., published 2016
    • Stroke and transient ischaemic attack in over 16s: diagnosis and initial management. National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (NICE), July 2008.
    • Ischaemic stroke. BMJ Best Practice., last reviewed December 2018
    • Haemorrhagic stroke. BMJ Best Practice., last reviewed December 2018
    • Stroke information page. National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke., last modified 14 June 2018
    • What are the symptoms of stroke? Stroke Association., accessed 14 January 2019
    • Recovery. Stroke Association., accessed 17 January 2019
  • Reviewed by Rachael Mayfield-Blake, Freelance Health Editor, March 2019
    Expert reviewer, Dr Ahamad Hassan, Consultant Neurologist and Stroke Physician
    Next review due March 2022