BACKGROUND: Visuo-spatial neglect (VSN) after stroke is associated with a poor prognosis for rehabilitation. The co-existence of a visual field deficit (VFD) with VSN may be associated with impaired visuo-spatial functioning and thereby poor functional outcome. OBJECTIVE: To determine whether the presence of a VFD (i) exacerbates VSN and (ii) influences recovery of VSN. METHODS: A prospective study of consecutive acute (<7 days), right-hemisphere stroke patients who were able to undergo detailed assessment of visuo-spatial functioning and visual fields. Clinical assessment and a standardized neuropsychological test was administered by one observer, followed by independent assessment of visual fields by a second observer. Patients were followed up for 12 weeks with 4-weekly re-assessments. RESULTS: 44 consecutive patients (23 women) with a first in a lifetime, acute hemisphere stroke were recruited. Twenty had VSN and VFD, seven VSN only, one VFD only and 17 had normal visual fields and no neglect. The finding of a VFD was significantly associated with the presence of VSN (P<0.0001). Patients with both VFD and VSN had a significantly lower score on the behavioural inattention test. One month post-stroke, this difference was no longer significant. Recovery of VSN and VFD was maximal in the first month, however VSN recovery continued for up to 12 weeks. Patients with VSN and a VFD on admission had a greater mortality at 1 and 3 months. CONCLUSION: The presence of a VFD does appear to exacerbate neglect in the acute stroke patient; this effect is no longer seen after 1 month. Recovery of VSN continues independent of a VFD. Patients with neglect and a VFD have an increased mortality, probably because of greater neurological impairment.