A stroke is an acute emergency where every minute counts. Typical signs include immediate severe headaches, paralysis and slurred speech.

At a glance

  • A stroke is an emergency and must be treated immediately.
  • People who suffer a stroke have sudden severe headaches, paralysis or slurred speech.
  • A stroke is caused by the blood supply to part of the brain being cut off.
  • This is frequently due to a blood clot blocking a blood vessel in the brain.
  • It often only affects one side of the body, for example the right arm and right leg can no longer move properly.

Note: The information in this article cannot and should not replace a medical consultation and must not be used for self-diagnosis or treatment.

Stroke: doctor analyzing printouts of reports lying on a table next to a stethoscope. A laptop screen shows images of a cranial and brain scan.

What is a stroke?

A stroke is an emergency that requires immediate treatment.

A stroke (also called apoplectic fit) is an emergency. It must be treated immediately. During a stroke sudden severe headaches, paralysis or slurred speech typically occur. A stroke is caused by the blood supply to part of the brain being cut off.

What happens during a stroke?

The video below reports on the possible causes, risk factors, and symptoms of a stroke.

This and other videos can also be found on YouTube

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What are the signs of a stroke?

The most common symptoms include sudden weakness, sudden-onset severe headaches, slurred speech, signs of paralysis and numbness, visual field loss, dizziness and unsteady gait. It may also lead to nausea and vomiting. A stroke normally only affects one side of the body, for example the left arm and left leg can no longer move properly.

Further information, for instance on the signs of a stroke, can be found at

What causes a stroke?

A stroke is frequently due to a blood clot blocking a blood vessel in the brain. The medical term for this is “ischemic stroke”. The blood clot may start in another part of the body before being carried to the brain through the circulatory system. But it may also start in the brain itself if an artery wall becomes inflamed.

Important: Bleeding in the brain can also cause a stroke, for example if a blood vessel bursts and blood leaks into the brain tissue. However this is less common than a blocked blood vessel in the brain.

The damage caused to the brain can be limited if the patient is treated and the oxygen supply restored quickly.

What are the risk factors for a stroke?

The risk of having a stroke can be increased by certain conditions and genetic predispositions. These include for example high blood pressure and persistent atrial fibrillation. Smoking may also increase the risk of having a stroke.

Occasionally stroke symptoms appear and disappear by themselves after a few hours. This may be an indication of a transient ischemic attack (TIA). This is where the blood clot re-dissolves on its own and less damage is caused to the brain.

Why is high blood pressure dangerous?

The video below explains what happens in the body in the event of high blood pressure. What consequences can high blood pressure have and how can it be lowered?

This and other videos can also be found on YouTube

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How common is a stroke?

Around 1 out of every 1000 people under the age of 85 will have a stroke at some point in their lives.

Around one out of a thousand people will have a stroke in the course of their life. This doubles to two out of a thousand for people aged 85 or over.

Most people survive a stroke. However there may be long-term damage. For example, a stroke can cause paralysis or restrict a number of body functions including speech or vision. These problems can get better over time. But sometimes they persist.

Important: People may have psychological problems after a stroke. The risk of having another stroke is also greater. Around 40% of patients have another stroke in the next ten years.

How can a stroke be prevented?

Prevention measures vary depending on what other conditions and risk factors a person has.

In people who are at a higher risk of blood clots forming, for example due to atrial fibrillation, anti-coagulant medication reduces the risk. Antihypertensive drugs can be used to help people with high blood pressure.

How is a stroke diagnosed?

It is important to call the emergency services in any case of suspected stroke. People should not wait for the symptoms to disappear.

The emergency doctor will start by examining the patient. If there is a hospital nearby that specializes in strokes the patient will be taken there. Further examinations and tests will be made there. The aim is to determine the cause of the symptoms and initiate treatment rapidly. Computed tomography or magnetic resonance imaging scans are often used for this.

How is a stroke treated?

The primary therapeutic goal is to save the person’s life and prevent complications as far as possible.

If the stroke is due to a blood clot, medication will be administered or a catheter is used to dissolve it. If there is bleeding this needs to be stopped quickly. This may require surgery.

How the effects are then treated and monitored will depend on the severity of the stroke and its consequences. It will also depend on the results of further tests.

What rehabilitation options are available?

For most people, the priority following a stroke is to regain their independence. This normally means improving their muscle strength, mobility and speech. Emotional stability is also important.

There are various forms of rehabilitation including physiotherapy exercises, fitness training or speech therapy. Occupational therapy helps people to manage their everyday routine despite their physical limitations.

How can people cope with the consequences of a stroke?

Many people feel sad and depressed after a stroke. That’s entirely normal, as it will often have changed their lives dramatically. Anyone who has suddenly become dependent on other people to help them will need some time to get used to the new situation.

The aim of the various treatments is to give people back some of their independence. This is successful in most cases and patients and their families can cope with the condition in their everyday routine.

But people may sometimes develop clinical depression that affects their overall health.

There is more information on strokes and depression at

What support is available following a stroke?

There are a large number of services available to stroke patients and their families such as advice and counseling services and self-help groups. These provide support and information on care options, for example, as well as financial or psychosocial matters.

Cities and communities often have nursing care offices that provide services free of charge. There are special training courses in caring where relatives can learn about basic care.

These services are organized differently, depending on their location and are not always easy to find straightaway.

The website has a general list of points of contact that can help with finding and using local services.

In cooperation with the Institute for Quality and Efficiency in Health Care (Institut für Qualität und Wirtschaftlichkeit im Gesundheitswesen) (IQWiG). As at:

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