An international review of the costs of stroke was conducted to explore data sources, and cost variables as well as to compare estimates of the annual aggregated cost (prevalence-based) and total per patient long-term cost (incidence-based) of care. Dutch, English, French, German, Italian and Spanish literature was searched using the keywords stroke, ischaemic stroke, haemorrhagic stroke, cerebrovascular accident, cerebral infarction, cost(s), economics, and cost analysis. Criteria for study inclusion were: provides estimates of direct and/or indirect costs of stroke, published after 1989, methods described in adequate detail, and for studies of long-term costs, estimates based on a minimum 5 years of care following the event. Cost estimates are presented in original currencies and US dollars. Among studies representing Australia, New Zealand, Western Europe and North America, six prevalence studies reported total annual aggregated costs of US dollars 7,975 (1988 values) to US dollars 54,546 (1993 values) per patient; eight incidence-based studies reported total long-term per patient costs of US dollars 18,538 (1991 values) to US dollars 228,038 (1990 values). Identifiable factors underlying variation included: perspective employed, cost variables considered, and exclusion of comorbidities. Although lack of uniformity hampers inter-study comparisons, it is evident that stroke poses a significant economic burden. Consensus on standard cost variables and methods for projections of resource use and survival over time are clearly warranted.