Background: Acute stroke treatment shows time-dependent benefit to prevent disability. Public information campaigns and streamlining of emergency management have been performed, but still, only one-third of acute stroke patients are admitted >4.5 hrs after symptom onset. Patients and methods: We interviewed 15 patients, presenting >4.5 hrs after symptom onset, regarding symptom recognition, emotions and their first action after symptom onset. Recorded interviews were analyzed by standardized descriptive analysis. Based on the results, a quantitative survey was developed. One hundred consecutive stroke unit patients surveyed to compare patients presenting within 4.5 hrs and more than 4.5 hrs of symptom onset. Results: Patients predominantly noticed symptoms by themselves. The most commonly expressed feelings were uncertainty and shame. The most frequent action was waiting. Patients described moderate knowledge about stroke in general, but felt less informed regarding their stroke risk. Magazines (51%) were the most frequently indicated source of information, while general practitioners only accounted for 26%. Significantly better knowledge was shown in the answers on closed questions compared to open questions, although the same items were named. Conclusion: Shame, uncertainty and insufficient individual risk knowledge about stroke were the most important factors delaying admission after stroke. Individual risk counseling could be investigated to close the gap between general stroke knowledge and recognition of own stroke risk.