The purpose of this study was to estimate the frequency of various risk factors, courses and outcome of stroke subtypes in a large hospital-based stroke registry. The Centre Hospitalier Universitaire of Besançon is the only public hospital with a neurological department in the county to admit any unselected patient with an acute stroke. A prospective hospital-based registry using systematic computer coding of data was conducted. All patients were evaluated by standard testing (neuroimaging, Doppler ultrasonography and cardiac investigations). From 1987 to 1994, 2,500 stroke patients with a first-ever stroke were included in the Besançon Stroke Registry. There were 1,425 men (mean age 66.1 years) and 1,075 women (mean age 70.6 years). Ischemic stroke was present in 84% of the patients (cerebral infarction in 84.5% and transient ischemic attacks in 15.5%), primary intracerebral hemorrhage (PIH) in 14.2% and cerebral venous thrombosis in 1.8%. On the 1st day of the stroke 79.9% of the patients were admitted, 47.1% within 6 h. In addition, stroke severity was well correlated with the time of the patient's admission. Past medical history of hypertension was the major risk factor occurring in 55.8% of all patients, followed by smoking, atrial fibrillation, ischemic heart disease, hypercholesterolemia and diabetes mellitus. Clinical presentation was distributed according to classical patterns. The in-hospital mortality rate was 13.6% and was higher in patients with infarcts (13.7%) or PIH (25.6%). Logistic regression analysis determined independent predictive factors for death: deterioration at 48 h [odds ratio (OR) 10.1, 95% confidence interval (CI) 7.0-14.5], initial loss of consciousness (OR 4.5, 95% CI 3.1-6.4), age > 70 (OR 2.6, 95% CI 1.8-3.8), complete motor deficit (OR 1.9, 95% CI 1.3-2.8), major cognitive syndrome (OR 1.5, 95% CI 1.1-2.3), hyperglycemia at admission (OR 1.007, 95% CI 1.004-1.01), female gender (OR 0.7, 95% CI 0.5-0.9) and regressive stroke onset (OR 0.2, 95% CI 0.1-0.5). The Besançon Stroke Registry is a useful tool for the study of the risk factors, clinical features, and the course of strokes in an early phase.