Half of Stroke Patients Skip 9-1-1 Call

Stroke symptoms require an immediate call for help

/ Author:  / Reviewed by: Joseph V. Madia, MD

(RxWiki News) Stroke care has improved dramatically over the last two decades. But even with those improvements, the number of patients calling 9-1-1 when they experience stroke symptoms has remained stagnant.

Only about half of patients experiencing stroke symptoms call 9-1-1 nationwide, with many opting instead to simply make a doctor appointment.

"Immediately call 9-1-1 if stroke symptoms are present."

Lead researcher Dr. Hooman Kamel, a neurologist at NewYork-Presbyterian Hospital/Weill Cornell and assistant professor of neurology at Weill Cornell Medical College, said that individuals do not always recognize the seriousness of stroke symptoms.

He said that instead of calling 9-1-1, they may call their primary care doctor for an appointment, losing valuable time as damage becomes irreversible.

During the study investigators analyzed data collected by the National Hospital Ambulatory Medical Care Survey between 1997 and 2008. Examining 1,605 cases, they found that only 51 percent of adults diagnosed with a stroke in hospital emergency rooms nationwide arrived by ambulance. This was similar to levels reported in the mid-1990s.

Researchers said the findings highlight the need for additional education about stroke symptoms and the importance of early intervention. Effective stroke treatments are available if symptoms are caught early.

"We have drugs and surgeries that can minimize brain damage from a stroke, but they can be used only within a few short hours," Dr. Kamel said. "When stroke victims or bystanders quickly recognize the symptoms of a stroke and call 9-1-1, patients are more likely to arrive in time to receive these treatments."

The National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke recommends immediately calling 9-1-1 if a patient experiences any of the common warning signs of stroke. These signs include numbness or weakness of the face, arm or leg, especially on one side of the body; sudden confusion, trouble speaking, loss of balance or severe headache with no known cause, or difficulty seeing in one or both eyes.

"It has certainly been my experience that many people with stroke symptoms misunderstand the gravity of the situation and the significance of the symptoms and therefore delay assessment and treatment," said Dr. Frank Meissner, an invasive cardiologist and clinical assistant professor of medicine at the Paul L. Foster School of Medicine, Texas Tech University Health Sciences Center.

"Given the short time lines involved with thrombolysis of strokes, it is essential that the patient does not have an excessive lag time until presentation. However, this behavior is not simply associated with strokes. Regrettably I see it all too often in patients with myocardial infarction."

The study was recently published in the Journal of the American Medical Association.

Reviewed by: 
Review Date: 
March 15, 2012
Last Updated:
March 17, 2012