March 8, 2007 -- Stroke victims hospitalized on a weekend may be more likely to die than those admitted during the week, according to a Canadian study.
The study tracked stroke deaths in 606 Canadian hospitals from April 2003 through March 2004.
After taking risk factors including age, sex, other illnesses, and medical complications into account, stroke patients hospitalized on weekends were 13% more likely to die than those admitted on weekdays.
The study doesn't show exactly why stroke deaths rose on weekends. But the researchers, including Gustavo Saposnik, MD, MSc, of the University of Toronto's Stroke Program, suggest that hospital staffing on weekends may make a difference.
"Disparities in resources, expertise, and health care providers working during weekends may explain the observed differences in weekend mortality," write Saposnik and colleagues.
However, this is not a reason to delay treatment; it is crucial for anyone experiencing a stroke to seek immediate care. Swift intervention can save lives, and some stroke drugs must be given within a few hours of the start of symptoms.
Stroke is America's No. 3 cause of death, killing more than 150,000 people a year. About 700,000 people in the U.S. suffer a stroke each year -- about one stroke every 45 seconds, according to the American Stroke Association.
Hospital Stroke Deaths Studied
During the Canadian study, the hospitals looked at had a combined total of more than 26,600 patients with ischemic stroke.
Roughly a quarter of the Canadian patients were admitted on weekends, defined as any time between midnight Friday to midnight Sunday.
Weekend, Weekday Stroke Deaths
The vast majority of the patients survived their strokes, no matter when they were hospitalized; but 7.6% died.
The stroke death rate was higher on weekends than weekdays (8.5% of patients admitted on weekends, compared with 7.4% of those admitted weekdays).
After accounting for risk factors and medical complications, the researchers found that stroke patients hospitalized on weekends were 13% more likely to die.
Since the study was only conducted in Canada, it's not clear if the findings apply to stroke patients in the U.S. or other countries.
Warning signs of stroke include:
- Sudden weakness or numbness in the face, arm, or leg on one side of the body.
- Abrupt loss of vision, strength, coordination, sensation, speech, or the ability to understand speech. These symptoms may become more marked over time.
- Sudden dimness of vision, especially in one eye.
- Sudden loss of balance, possibly accompanied by vomiting, nausea, fever, hiccups, or trouble with swallowing.
- Sudden and severe headache with no other cause, followed rapidly by loss of consciousness -- indications of a stroke due to bleeding.
- Brief loss of consciousness.
- Unexplained dizziness or sudden falls.
Anyone experiencing such symptoms or observing them in another should seek help immediately rather than waiting to see if they fade. These symptoms don't always indicate stroke, but the stakes are too high to take chances.