Not Enough Blacks Call 911 Immediately for Stroke Symptoms

New study finds that we are more likely to call friends and family members instead.

Posted: 05/06/2011 05:48 PM EDT
Filed Under stroke

Even though the difference between life and death in many stroke cases depends on how quickly the ambulance arrives, a new study found that African-Americans are least likely to call 911 when a loved one is having a stroke. This is incredibly problematic given that African-Americans are more likely to die from strokes than any other racial group.


In a survey funded by the National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke and the National Center on Minority Health and Health Disparities, researchers found that out of 253 African-Americans in Washington, D.C., 89 percent said they'd call 911 at the first sign of a stroke. But only 12 percent of 100 stroke patients surveyed in the predominantly Black District of Columbia called 911 right away when faced with symptoms.


Experts state that prompt hospital arrival is critical because intravenous clot-busting drugs can prevent permanent stroke damage if administered within three hours of the onset of stroke symptoms. Researchers found that almost none of the study's participants were aware of the treatments available to stroke sufferers or that quick medical attention could improve survival rates.


Among the 100 real-life stroke patients in the study, researchers also found that:


—Almost half delayed seeking medical treatment because they thought symptoms weren't serious or because they thought they'd feel better.

—Three-fourths called family or a friend first.

—Of those who suspected they were having a stroke, only half arrived at the hospital via ambulance.

—Of those who arrived by ambulance, 35 percent did so only because they had no other transportation.


Being able to identify stroke symptoms is very important as well.


"Stroke doesn't typically cause pain or cause patients to collapse, so some will go to bed and hope they feel better," said Amie W. Hsia, M.D., the study's lead author, an assistant professor in the Georgetown University Department of Neurology. "Or they want confirmation that what is happening is serious and is worthy of calling 911, so they call a family member or friend first."


Stroke warning signs include:

—Sudden numbness or weakness of the face, arm or leg, often on only one side of the body

—Sudden confusion and trouble speaking or understanding others

—Sudden difficulty seeing

—Sudden trouble walking, feelings of dizziness and loss of balance or coordination

—Sudden severe headache of unknown cause


May is American Stroke Month and the American Heart Association's Power to End Stroke campaign will host health events across the country (31 Days of Power) to bring stroke awareness and resources to African-American communities. To find an event and for more information about Power to End Stroke, visit Power to End Stroke.


Photo: REUTERS/Christinne Muschi /Landov