Unless you know the warning signs of a stroke, you may not get the help you need in time to prevent permanent disability or death.
A clot-busting medication can stop or minimize the damage of a stroke if it's given promptly, generally within 3 hours of the onset of symptoms. But a new study finds that a high number of stroke victims continue to fail to get to the emergency room quickly enough to get the drug.
An analysis of about 115,000 patients who had strokes between 2005 and 2010 found that almost 44 percent didn't get to the hospital until more than 4.5 hours after they first showed symptoms. That’s up from 2005 when only 39% didn’t get treatment in time.
The percentage who got to the hospital within two hours also fell from 40 percent in 2005 to 35 percent in 2010, another sign that more patients may be in danger from not getting prompt care.
Part of the delay in getting to the hospital, say researchers is that patients chose to get themselves to the hospital instead of calling an ambulance.
The percentage of patients who received treatment with tissue-plasminogen activator (tPA), a drug that breaks up blood clots, did grow slightly from 6.4 to 9.2 percent over the five years, but could be used more often if people reacted quicker to the signs of stroke.
The study authors believe a greater awareness of the warning signs of stroke and what to do is sorely needed. According to the National Stroke Association, stroke symptoms appear suddenly and include:
- numbness or weakness (especially on one side of the body)
- confusion or trouble speaking
- trouble seeing out of one or both eyes
- trouble with walking, dizziness, loss of balance or coordination
- severe headache with no known cause.
When any of these symptoms occur, even if you’re not sure, call 911. It is critical that you don't take a “wait and see” approach.
The research noted that people who arrive at the hospital via ambulance are more likely to get treatment in time. They get there quicker, they get seen quicker and perhaps there's more of a sense of urgency, study authors said.
While many more people may benefit from clot-busting drugs if they got to the hospital sooner, it isn't appropriate for all kinds of strokes and there are some risks in using it. Each patient must be evaluated at the hospital and it can take a while to weigh all the factors involved—another reason to get there as soon as you can!