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Stroke (cerebral vascular accident)


UK [1]

  • Every year, an estimated 150,000 people in the UK have a stroke. Most people affected are over 65, but anyone can have a stroke, including children and even babies
  • A stroke is the third most common cause of death in the UK. It is also a leading cause of severe adult disability. More than 250,000 people live with disabilities caused by stroke

What is it?

Stroke is the term used to describe the effects of an interruption of the blood supply to a localised area of the brain. In order to work, the brain needs a constant supply of oxygen and nutrients. These are carried to the brain by blood through the arteries. If part of the brain is deprived of blood, brain cells are damaged or die. This causes a number of different effects, depending on the part of the brain affected and the amount of damage to brain tissue.

Anyone can have a stroke, including babies and children, but the vast majority - nine out of 10 - affect people over 55. However, It is estimated that around a third of people who have a stroke will die within the first year. Another third will make a good recovery, while the final third will be left with moderate to severe disabilities.

A Transient Ischaemic Attack (TIA), sometimes called a 'mini-stroke', occurs when the brain's blood supply is briefly interrupted. Unlike a full-blown stroke, the symptoms of a TIA - which are very similar to a full stroke - last under 24 hours and afterwards there is full recovery. A TIA is an indication that part of the brain is not getting enough blood and that there is a risk of a stroke occurring.


The key symptoms include: sudden numbness, weakness or paralysis on one side of the body. Signs of this may be a drooping arm, leg or eyelid, or a dribbling mouth, sudden slurred speech, difficulty finding words or understanding speech, sudden blurring, disturbance or loss of vision, especially in one eye, dizziness, confusion, unsteadiness and/or a severe headache.

Types and causes

There are two main types of stroke, and each has different causes. The first type, an ischaemic stroke, occurs when a blood clot blocks an artery serving the brain, disrupting blood supply. Very often an ischaemic stroke is the end result of a build up of cholesterol and other debris in the arteries (atherosclerosis) over many years. An ischaemic stroke may be due to:

  • A cerebral thrombosis, in which a blood clot (thrombus) forms in a main artery leading to the brain, cutting off blood supply
  • A cerebral embolism, in which a blood clot forms in a blood vessel elsewhere in the body, for instance in the neck or the heart, and is carried in the bloodstream to the brain
  • A lacunar stroke, in which the blockage is in the small blood vessels deep within the brain

The second main type of stroke is a haemorrhagic stroke, when a blood vessel in or around the brain bursts, causing a bleed or haemorrhage. Long-standing, untreated high blood pressure places a strain on the artery walls, increasing their risk of bursting and bleeding. A haemorrhagic stroke may be due to:

  • An intracerebral haemorrhage, in which a blood vessel bursts within the brain itself
  • A subarachnoid haemorrhage, in which a blood vessel on the surface of the brain bleeds into the area between the brain and the skull, known as the subarachnoid space


The effects of a stroke vary enormously, and depend on which part of the brain is damaged and the extent of that damage. For some, the effects are relatively minor and short lived; others are left with more severe, long-term disabilities. Common problems include:

  • Weakness or paralysis (hemiplegia) on one side of the body
  • Speech and language difficulties
  • Difficulties in perception
  • Cognitive problems
  • Fatigue
  • Mood swings

Further information

Acknowledgements: This section has been developed with the help of The Stroke Association.


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