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Stroke Health Center

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Friends of Stroke Victims Reluctant to Call 911

Hesitation in Calling for an Ambulance Could Delay Lifesaving Treatment

Reacting to Stroke Symptoms in a Friend or Relative continued...

A high fever and an injured leg are not stroke symptoms. Participants had the option of replying that they would give medicine or first aid, call a doctor, take the person showing symptoms to an emergency room, call 911, stay with the person until they felt better, or "something else."

Researchers say calling 911 was the only correct response for the three stroke symptom scenarios, but only a small percentage of participants said that's what they would do.

Other results show:

  • 51% said they would call 911 if they saw a family member or friend having sudden trouble speaking or understanding.
  • 42% would call 911 for a family member or friend having sudden numbness or weakness on one side of their body.
  • 20% would call for a family member or friend who had sudden trouble seeing out of one or both eyes.
  • In four of five of the hypothetical scenarios, taking patients to an emergency room was the most common response, rather than calling for an ambulance.

The findings suggest that greater public awareness is needed about the warning signs of stroke, but also about what should be done when any of the signs are noticed.

"Respondents appear to be unaware of the advantages of EMS transport, and the fact that public health recommendations advise the use of EMS over private transport," Fussman says.

The study did not determine why people seem reluctant to call 911, even if they are aware of stroke warning signs. He says future research should look for possible reasons that might include embarrassment, denial, cost, and cultural views about calling for an ambulance.

"I don't think that a lack of stroke knowledge is the problem here," he says. "The problem is what people do with the knowledge they have."

The best option, he says, is calling 911 for emergency help.

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