Abnormalities of haemorheology (plasma viscosity, fibrinogen), endothelial function [von Willebrand factor (vWf)], platelet activation (soluble P-selectin) and thrombogenesis [plasminogen activator inhibitor (PAI), and fibrin D-dimer] are common in cardiovascular disease. We investigated changes in these markers in 86 patients (58 males) presenting with acute stroke (all age <75 years, with ictus <12 h), and sequential changes at six time points (baseline on admission, 48 h, 1 week, 2 weeks, 3 months and 6 months following the onset of stroke). Baseline plasma viscosity, haematocrit, fibrinogen, vWf, PAI, soluble P-selectin and fibrin D-dimer levels were increased in the acute stroke patients compared with 35 age-matched and sex-matched controls. Following admission, there were significant increases in haematocrit at 2 weeks, vWf at 48 h and 1 week, fibrinogen at 1 week, PAI at 48 h and 1 and 2 weeks, soluble P-selectin at 48 h, and fibrin D-dimer at 48 h and 1 week following admission. Using univariate 'time to event' analysis, high (> median) mean age (log-rank test, P = 0.0262), diastolic blood pressure (P = 0.01), haematocrit (P = 0.0234), PAI-1 (P = 0.0066) and fibrin D-dimer levels (P = 0.0356) were associated with a shortened event-free survival. Using a multivariate Cox survival analysis, only PAI-1 levels remained an independent predictor of survival (P = 0.0349). We conclude that acute stroke patients have marked baseline abnormalities of haemorheology, endothelial disturbance, thrombogenesis, platelet activation and abnormal fibrinolysis, with further changes over the subsequent follow-up period. Abnormal thrombogenesis and fibrinolysis may significantly influence survival in patients with acute stroke. These changes may have potential implications for the pathogenesis of stroke and its complications, although the possibility remains that we are documenting an acute phase response that previous studies, which included stroke patients with a wide time range since ictus onset, have neglected to consider.