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22% of Stroke Patients Told to Call Physician, Not 911

One in four patients who have classic stroke symptoms are told not to call 911, says a new study from Cabell Huntington Hospital in West Virginia. Dr. Brett Jarrell, the study’s author, blames doctors and hospitals who tell their patients to call their primary physicians first, instead of 911.

Jarrell followed up this anecdotal evidence by calling 46 different healthlines in the United States and telling the operator he was a 65-year-old man with weakness in the left arm and leg that was having trouble speaking. All of these symptoms are common in stroke patients. Jarrell then asked the operator which of four responses they would have given the patient: (1) Wait for the symptom to reside (2) Contact a primary care doctor (3) Drive to a local urgent care center (4) Call 911

In 22% of the phone calls, the operator would have told the patient to contact his primary care physician. This is problematic, Jarrell says, because of the correlation between quick treatment of stroke symptoms and successful recovery. Patients who are treated for symptoms early into their onset are much more likely to survive. According to WebMD, a prompt diagnosis is crucial because treatment for ischemic strokes should begin within 3 hours.

Dr. Jarrell says that another big problem is that people simply do not know what symptoms are typical of a stroke. While the American Heart Association has done a good job educating the public about heart attack symptoms, he says a very poor job has been done with the stroke. In fact, 24% of the operators that Jarrell spoke with could not identify a single symptom of a stroke.

Stroke symptoms include: sudden weakness in the face, leg, or arms, especially on one side of the body; sudden confusion or trouble speaking and understanding; sudden trouble seeing; dizziness; or sudden severe headache with no known cause.

A stroke occurs when a blood vessel that supplies blood to the brain bursts or is blocked by a blood clot. Nerve cell damage begins with in a few minutes, and the nerve cells around the brain may begin to die within a few hours. This can cause the part of the body controlled by the affected area of the brain to no longer function properly.

There are two types of strokes: ischemic and hemorrhagic. Ischemic strokes are caused by a reduction in blood flow to the brain. Often the culprit is blockage or narrowing in an artery that supplies blood to the brain. Hemorrhagic strokes on the other hand, develop when an artery in the brain leaks or bursts and causes bleeding inside the brain tissue itself or near the surface of the brain.

For more information on stroke symptoms, visit the National Stroke Association.

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The information you obtain at this site is not, nor is it intended to be, legal advice.
You should consult an attorney for individual advice regarding your own situation.