A stroke is an acute emergency where every minute counts. The typical symptoms include paralysis, slurred speech and, in some cases, severe headaches.

At a glance

  • A stroke is an emergency and must be treated immediately.
  • The typical symptoms include paralysis, slurred speech and, in some cases, severe headaches.
  • 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.

A screen with images of a cranial and brain scan.

What is a stroke?

A stroke (also known as an apoplectic fit) is an emergency that must be treated immediately.

A stroke is an emergency that requires immediate treatment.

The typical symptoms of a stroke include paralysis, slurred speech and, in some cases, severe headaches. This is because the blood supply to part of the brain is 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 symptoms of a stroke?

The most common symptoms of a stroke include:

  • sudden weakness
  • slurred speech
  • paralysis and numbness
  • loss of vision, drooping corner of the mouth
  • dizziness and an unsteady gait

In some cases, severe headaches accompanied by nausea and vomiting can be experienced.

A stroke normally only affects one side of the body, for example the left arm and left leg can no longer move properly.

For more detailed information about the symptoms of a stroke, please visit

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”.

Such a blood clot usually forms in the carotid arteries or the heart and travels through the bloodstream to the brain. 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 rarer than a blocked blood vessel in the brain.

Both causes lead to part of the brain no longer being sufficiently supplied with oxygen. A bleed also increases the pressure on the brain tissue, which can cause additional damage.

The quicker patients can be treated and the oxygen supply restored, the better the complications can be restricted.

What are the risk factors for a stroke?

The risk of a stroke can increase as a result of genetic predisposition and certain health conditions, including 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. A TIA indicates a higher risk of stroke.

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?

Approximately 5 in every 1,000 people have a stroke every year. The risk increases with age.

Men are slightly more commonly affected than women.

Approximately 5 in every 1,000 people have a stroke every year.

What are the potential effects of a stroke?

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. Cognitive functions can also be impaired.

These complications can get better over time but are sometimes permanent. Everyday support or care can be required after a stroke.

Important: People may experience psychological problems after a stroke. The risk of having another stroke is also greater. For example, 5 in every 100 people have a further stroke within the first year.

How can a stroke be prevented?

The potential measures for preventing a stroke depend on other existing health conditions and risk factors.

If people have 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 and statins can help those with high cholesterol.

Sometimes, surgery is recommended to eliminate constricted blood vessels, for example in the carotid artery.

For more detailed information on how to prevent further strokes, please visit

How is a stroke diagnosed?

If a stroke is suspected, it is important to quickly call 112 for emergency help. You should never wait for the symptoms to pass.

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. In most cases, a computed tomography (CT) or magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) scan is performed.

How is a stroke treated?

The main aims of treating a stroke are to save the patient’s life and limit possible complications.

If the stroke was caused by a blood clot, doctors endeavor to reopen the blocked blood vessel in the brain as quickly as possible:

  • With thrombosis, the blood clot is dissolved by medication administered via an infusion.
  • With a thrombectomy, the blood clot is removed from the blood vessels in the brain using a catheter.

If possible, the two procedures are combined. For them to be effective, it’s important for the patient to attend a hospital within the first few hours of the symptoms’ onset. Units specialized in providing stroke treatment are known as stroke units.

In the case of a bleed, it is important to stop this quickly. This may require surgery.

Further treatment and monitoring measures depend on the severity of the stroke and its effects. They also depend on the results of further tests.

What rehab options exist following a stroke?

For most people, the priority following a stroke is to regain their independence.

This normally means improving their muscle strength, mobility and speech. It is also important to improve people’s emotional stability.

Rehabilitation can take various forms. The most important are:

  • physiotherapy
  • fitness training
  • speech therapy
  • training the swallowing function
  • occupational therapy: this can help people manage everyday life despite restrictions.

Rehabilitation usually begins in the hospital even while treatment is still ongoing and can then be continued in a rehab clinic or on an outpatient basis.

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 situation.

The aim of the various treatments is to enable people to regain some of their independence. With time, people usually become able to manage the consequences of a stroke during everyday life.

In some cases, however, people may develop depression, which needs to be treated. This is not only mentally debilitating, but can also impair physical recovery.

There is more information on strokes and depression at

What support is available following a stroke?

Following a stroke, patients and their families can access a wide range of services, such as advice centers and self-help groups.

These provide support and useful information, for example on care options as well as financial or psychosocial matters.

In many cities and municipalities, such services are often provided free of charge. There are special training courses in caring where relatives can learn about basic care. These services are organized in various ways depending on the location.

You can find suitable self-help services via a database on the National Contact and Information Point For Encouraging and Supporting Self-Help Groups (NAKOS) website.

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

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