Drawn image of a character with severe headache, possibly having a stroke

Act FAST – A Guide to Strokes

A stroke is a condition that affects your brain.  Globally, more than 15 million people are affected by stroke each year and approximately 6 million will die as a result. They can happen to anyone at any age, but are more likely to happen as people get older.

In this straightforward guide to strokes, you'll discover more about the condition: what strokes are, how many people they affect and how to recognise the symptoms. And if you do see someone who you suspect is having a stroke, what you should do.


Finally, we have some links to further information from the NHS, stroke charities and to our first aid courses where you can learn more.

What is a Stroke?

So, what is a stroke? Well, a good way to think about it, is as a “brain attack” (similar to a heart attack).

Your brain needs a good supply of oxygen to function, and it gets this via our blood supply.

During a 'brain attack', the blood flow to the brain is disturbed. This leads to part of the brain tissue being starved of oxygen and causing those areas of the brain to die. And that causes a loss of function in those areas.

Most people do recover to a greater or lesser extent. However long-term damage is common. This can be minor, moderate, severe or fatal.

If you'd like to learn more about strokes

come along to one of our First Aid at Work courses

What Causes them?

There are two main causes of strokes:

  • Blood clots (ischaemic strokes)
    The blood supply to the brain is interrupted due to a blood clot, which blocks the path of blood to an area of the brain. This accounts for around 85% of all strokes.
  • Burst blood vessel (haemorrhagic strokes)
    Here the blood supply to an area of the brain is lost, as the vessel supplying the blood to that area fails.

In either case, the sufferer needs urgent medical care to reduce the clot or stop the bleeding. The faster the medical response, the better the outcome is likely to be.

Mini-Strokes (or TIAs)

Mini-strokes (or transient ischaemic attacks) are very similar to regular strokes. The main difference is that the blood supply to the brain is only temporarily obstructed.

They can take as little as a few minutes or go on for hours, and then the symptoms clear.

However, they are a strong indicator of the likelihood of having a full-on stroke in