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Calling Doc May Delay Stroke Treatment

Studies Point to Need to Call 911 at First Sign of Stroke

Office Workers Fail to Recognize Stroke Signs

In the second study, U.S. researchers randomly called more than 50 primary care physicians' offices seeking advice for hypothetical stroke or heart attack symptoms.

In all cases, receptionists realized that patients complaining of chest pain and shortness of breath were having a heart attack and correctly recommended that the caller dial 911 immediately.

The same didn't hold true for stroke scenarios, where receptionists were told the victim was having trouble speaking or experiencing weakness in an arm or leg, says Brett Jarrell, MD, an assistant professor of emergency medicine at the University of Kentucky in Lexington.

"These are classic signs of stroke. But in about 30% of cases, the receptionist recommended scheduling an appointment later in the day if symptoms persisted.

"This was not the desired answer," he tells WebMD.

Only 45% of Stroke Victims Arrive by Ambulance

Only 45% of patients arrive at the hospital in an ambulance, according to another study presented at the meeting. And another analysis found that despite widespread campaigns to raise awareness of stroke symptoms and the need for prompt treatment, use of emergency services was unchanged from 1993 to 1999.

Sacco says, "Don't call me. Don't call your mom. Call 911. It's the quickest taxi to the ER."

According to ASA, classic stroke warning signs that merit a call to 911 are:

  • 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.
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