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Stroke Health Center

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Roadblock in Treating Stroke Symptoms

Patients May Misjudge Severity of Symptoms, Delaying Treatment

Severe or Not?

Patients who thought their symptoms were severe were less than half as likely to delay seeking treatment, according to the study.

"Regarding the perception of severity of symptoms, we found that patients who perceived their symptoms to be severe were more likely to seek help quickly than those who perceived their symptoms as not severe," Mandelzweig tells WebMD in an email.

"I must point out, however, that the patient's perception of severity does not necessarily reflect the true clinical severity of the symptoms, but it is often what motivates him to [seek medical help]," she continues.

"It is also likely that a patient who perceives his symptoms as severe may be more inclined to contact an ambulance, which is clearly the preferred contact for quick transport of stroke patients to the hospital," Mandelzweig says.

Help From Bystanders

Patients were more than 80% less likely to delay seeking medical help if someone else noticed their symptoms and urged them to get help.

Bystanders could be a big help to stroke patients, Mandelzweig notes.

"Stroke is a bit tricky when it comes to patient's perceptions, because the organ that is affected is the brain. Consequently, as a result of the stroke, perception may be altered to some extent in some cases," she says.

"This problem emphasizes the importance of intervention of others, who are often able to assess the patient's condition more accurately and objectively, and advise the patient to seek help immediately. They may also be instrumental in getting the patient to the hospital quickly and providing the emotional support that the patients need to cope with the traumatic event," Mandelzweig says.

Stroke's Warning Signs

The reasons why some patients delay seeking stroke treatment are complex, Mandelzweig says.

Her study notes that people may need to be urged not to try to gauge the severity of stroke symptoms and that bystanders can help people get prompt care.

The American Stroke Association lists these warning signs of a possible stroke:

  • Sudden numbness or weakness of the face, arm, or leg, especially on one side of the body
  • Sudden confusion, trouble speaking, or understanding
  • Sudden trouble seeing in one or both eyes
  • Sudden trouble walking, dizziness, loss of balance, or coordination
  • Sudden, severe headache with no known cause

Call for emergency medical help at the first sign of those symptoms. Don't wait to see if they go away and don't judge for yourself how bad they are.

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