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Stroke Health Center

Friends of Stroke Victims Reluctant to Call 911

Hesitation in Calling for an Ambulance Could Delay Lifesaving Treatment
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WebMD Health News
Reviewed by Laura J. Martin, MD

May 13, 2010 -- Stroke victims need immediate emergency attention, but a new study shows that most people who realize stroke warning signs are occurring in a friend or family member may not call 911, thereby delaying potentially lifesaving treatment.

This is alarming, Michigan researchers suggest, because people who suffer strokes need immediate assessment and treatment.

But people who would call 911 if they thought a friend or loved one was having a heart attack don't seem to realize that strokes are deadly, too, the researchers write; strokes are the No. 3 killer in the U.S.

Stroke victims who are candidates for the clot-busting drug called tissue plasminogen activator (tPA) may receive this treatment if they get to a hospital within three hours (and in some select cases up to 4.5 hours) of the time the first warning signs show up.

"Calling 911 gets you to the hospital fast and allows the paramedics to communicate with the hospital so staff are prepared for your arrival," says study researcher Chris Fussman, MS, an epidemiologist with the Michigan Department of Community Health in Lansing, in a news release.

Fussman says the study's finding "emphasizes the critical roles that symptom recognition and the calling of 911 have in reducing delays in hospital arrival to receive urgent stroke treatment."

Fussman and a team of researchers analyzed the results of a survey of more than 4,800 people in Michigan and found that only a fraction would call 911 if they recognized symptoms enough to deduce that someone was having a stroke.

The study is published in the May issue of Stroke: Journal of the American Heart Association.

The purpose of the survey was to assess whether people knew when to call for an ambulance when stroke symptoms are observed. Well-known signs of stroke include sudden slurred speech, sudden numbness on one side of the body, or sudden blurry vision.

Reacting to Stroke Symptoms in a Friend or Relative

People in the study were asked to report their first reactions to five hypothetical situations:

  • Noticing sudden slurred speech
  • Noticing sudden numbness on one side of a person's body
  • Sudden blurry vision
  • High fever
  • An injured leg

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