Many stroke victims not calling 911

Tuesday , November 19, 2013 - 11:50 AM

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Jamie Lampros, Standard-Examiner Staff

One-third of stroke victims in the United States failed to call 911 this year, despite the fact that stroke and other cardiovascular disorders remain one of the leading causes of death.

According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Over 800,000 people nationwide lose their lives each year to cardiovascular disease, many of whom might have been saved if they had called for emergency help.

After analyzing the records of more than 200,00 stroke victims, researchers from the UCLA Stroke Center found that 36.3 percent did not make it to the hospital by ambulance. Minority groups and the poor were even less likely to dial 911.

The study also showed that younger Americans are too stubborn to call 911 because they don’t think their situation is a medical emergency. Others fear the cost of the ambulance ride and some feel embarrassed to call in case they aren’t really having a stroke or other cardiovascular event.

“EMS are able to give the hospital a heads up, and that grabs the attention of the emergency room staff to be ready to act as soon as the patient arrives,” said Dr. Jeffrey L. Saver, senior author of the study. “The ambulance crew also knows which hospitals in the area have qualified stroke centers.”

Ogden Regional Medical Center stroke and chest pain coordinator, Kristy Chambers, said stroke symptoms include sudden numbness or weakness of the face, arm or leg, especially on one side of the body, sudden confusion, trouble speaking or understanding, sudden trouble seeing in one or both eyes, sudden trouble walking, dizziness, loss of balance or coordination or sudden severe headache with no known cause.

“Ischemic stroke occurs when a blood clot blocks an artery, cutting off the flow of oxygen rich blood to a part of the brain,” she said. “Ischemic stroke is the most common type of stroke.”

Hemorrhagic stroke is caused by a bursting blood vessel in the brain that spills blood into the brain, Chambers said. High blood pressure and brain aneurysms can cause the blood vessel to be weak.

McKay-Dee Hospital cardiologist Dr. Jerry John said stroke is a medical emergency where every minute counts.

“The longer blood flow is cut off to the brain, the greater the damage,” he said. “Immediate treatment can save people’s lives and enhance their chances for successful recovery.”

John said the window of opportunity to treat an ischemic stroke is three hours, but to be evaluated and receive treatment, patients need to get to the hospital within 60 minutes.

“A five year study by the National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke found that some stroke patients who received t-pA within three hours of the start of stroke symptoms were at least 30 percent more likely to recover with little or no disability after three months,” John said.

Tissue plasminogen activator, or t-PA, is a medication used to dissolve clots. It cannot be used for a hemorrhagic stroke.

Heart attacks also need immediate attention Chambers and John said. Symptoms can also differ between women and men. Chambers said in men, the typical symptoms include chest discomfort in the middle of the chest that can last for more than a few minutes or may even come in waves. The discomfort may feel like pressure, squeezing or pain. Men may also experience discomfort in the arms, back, neck, jaw or stomach, have shortness of breath, lightheadedness, cold sweats and nausea.

Women may or may not have chest pressure, Chambers said. They can have upper back pressure, extreme fatigue, dizziness, light-headedness or fainting, shortness of breath and pain or pressure in the lower chest or upper abdomen.

“Eighty-five percent of heart damage occurs within the first two hours of a heart attack,” she said. “This is why knowing the subtle danger signs of a heart attack and acting upon them immediately before heart damage occurs is so important.”

Chambers and John said it’s vital for people to call 911 as soon as possible. And don’t feel embarrassed. Hospital staff would rather it be nothing than to have it be something that wasn’t taken care of in time.

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