Stroke is a ‘brain attack’ caused by a disturbance to the blood supply to the brain. The most common form of stroke, Ischaemic, is caused by a clot narrowing or blocking blood vessels so that blood cannot reach the brain, which leads to the death of brain cells due to lack of oxygen. Haemorrhagic stroke is caused by a bursting of blood vessels producing bleeding into the brain, which causes damage. Transient Ischaemic attacks (TIA), also known as minor strokes, occur when stroke symptoms resolve themselves within 24 hours.

Stroke is the third biggest cause of death in the UK and the largest single cause of severe disability. Each year more than 110,000 people in England will suffer from a stroke around and 30,000 of these will go on to have a further stroke. Although stroke mainly affects older people, 10,000 people under 55 years and 1,000 people under 30 years have a stroke each year. Prevalence of stroke is between 40% and 70% higher in African-Caribbean and South Asian men as compared to the general population, whilst unskilled manual workers have a 60% higher chance of having a stroke than those in professional occupations. Health conditions such as hypertension and diabetes, as well as lifestyle factors such as smoking, high levels of alcohol consumption, poor diet and low levels of physical activity also contribute to the risk of stroke.

Stroke has a devastating and lasting impact on the lives of people and their families. Individuals often live with the effect for the rest of their lives. A third of people who have a stroke are left with long-term disability. The effects can include aphasia, physical disability, loss of cognitive and communication skills (e.g. leading to aphasia), depression and other mental health problems.

Promoting healthy living is very important in helping to prevent stroke, particularly in disadvantaged areas and groups. Healthy lifestyles and management of specific risk factors reduce the risk of an initial stroke and the risk of a subsequent stroke. It is estimated that 20,000 strokes a year could be avoided through preventive work on high blood pressure, irregular heartbeats, smoking cessation, and wider statin use.

Stroke Costs

Stroke costs the NHS and the economy about £7 billion a year: £2.8 billion in direct costs to the NHS, £2.4 billion of informal care costs (e.g. the costs of home nursing borne by patients’ families) and £1.8 billion in income lost to productivity and disability. Outcomes in the UK compare poorly internationally, despite our services being among the most expensive, with unnecessarily long lengths of stay and high levels of avoidable disability and mortality.

Following on from this, the Government has launched a national stroke strategy to modernise service provision and deliver the newest treatments for stroke. The Government's target which aims to reduce the death rate from Stroke, CHD and related diseases in people under 75 by at least 40 percent by 2010 has already been achieved.

Below are key resources relating to stroke which have been organised at both a regional and national level.

Key resources

For further information you may wish to visit the following websites:

Information compiled by Andrew Hughes. Last review Aug 2010.