A stroke is a serious medical condition that happens when the blood supply to part of the brain is cut off.

Strokes are a medical emergency and early treatment is essential. The sooner a person receives treatment for a stroke, the less damage is likely to happen.

If you suspect that you or someone else is having a stroke, phone 999 immediately and ask for an ambulance.

When might someone be having a stroke?

The main symptoms and signs of stroke can be recognised with the FAST test:

  • Facial weakness: Can the person smile? Has their mouth or eye drooped?
  • Arm weakness: Can the person raise both arms?
  • Speech problems: Can the person speak clearly and understand what you say?
  • Time to call 999.

Find out more in our symptoms and signs of stroke section.

Why do strokes happen?

Like all organs, the brain needs the oxygen and nutrients provided by blood to function properly.

If the supply of blood is restricted, or stopped, brain cells begin to die. This can lead to brain damage, such as stroke and possibly death.

Age, lifestyle factors, medical conditions and ethnicity can all contribute to the risk of stroke.

Find out more in our causes of stroke section.

Can strokes be prevented?

In Scotland, stroke is the third highest cause of death and the main cause of adult disability.

However, strokes can often be prevented by having a healthy lifestyle and managing certain medical conditions that put you at a higher risk of having a stroke.

Find out more in our preventing stroke section.

Types of stroke

There are two types of stroke:

  • 85% of strokes are caused by a blockage, called ischaemic strokes.
  • 15% of strokes are caused by bleeding in or around the brain, called haemorrhagic strokes.

Find out more in our diagnosing stroke section.

There is also a related condition known as a transient ischaemic attack (TIA), where the supply of blood to the brain is temporarily interrupted causing a 'mini-stroke'.

The symptoms are similar to a full-blown stroke but do not last as long. They usually last for a few minutes or hours and symptoms always disappear within 24 hours.

You should never ignore a TIA as it is a serious warning sign there is a problem with the blood supply to your brain. There is about a 1 in 20 chance those who have a TIA will experience a full stroke within a week of their TIA.

If you or someone you know is having a TIA, call 999 immediately for an ambulance.

Find out more in out TIA article.

Treating a stroke

Treatment depends on the type of stroke you have, including which part of the brain was affected and what caused it.

Most often, strokes are treated with medicines. This generally includes drugs to prevent and remove blood clots, reduce blood pressure and reduce cholesterol levels.

In some cases, surgery may be required. This could be to clear fatty deposits in your arteries or to repair a blood vessel that has burst, causing bleeding in the brain.

Find out more in our treatment of stroke section.

Life after stroke

Effective treatment of stroke can prevent long-term disability and save lives.  However, the damage caused by a stroke can be widespread and long lasting.

Some people need to have a long period of rehabilitation before they can recover their former independence, while some may never fully recover. The process of rehabilitation will be specific to you, and will depend on your symptoms and how severe they are.

A team of specialists are available to help, including physiotherapists, psychologists, occupational therapists, speech and language therapists and specialist nurses and doctors.

Find out more in our recovering from a stroke section as well as our information on caring for someone after a stroke.

Further information

You can find out more about what a stroke is at:


Last updated: 15 February 2016

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