Although stroke, defined as a focal neurological deficit lasting more than 24 hr, is uncommon in the perioperative period, its associated mortality and long-term disability are high. No large-scale data are available to identify the importance of recognized risk factors for stroke in the perioperative period. A review of the literature shows that the incidence and mechanism of its occurrence are influenced by the presence of cardiovascular disease and the type of surgery. The most common cause of perioperative stroke is embolism. In non-cardiac surgery, the incidence of perioperative stroke is higher among the elderly. Properly administered, controlled hypotension is associated with minimal risk of stroke. Cerebral vasospasm may be the cause of focal cerebral ischaemia in eclamptic patients, and the aggressive treatment of hypertension may exacerbate the neurological damage. The risk of stroke associated with carotid endarterectomy is closely related to the preoperative neurological presentation, and the experience of the surgical/anaesthetic team. Symptomatic cerebrovascular disease, acute stroke, asymptomatic carotid lesions, preoperative assessment of risk, local and general anaesthesia, cerebral protection and monitoring during carotid endarterectomy are discussed with reference to reducing the risk of perioperative stroke. Adequate monitoring and protection have minimized the risk of ischaemia from carotid clamping, and the major mechanism of stroke is embolization.