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Blacks with Stroke Symptoms Often Call Friend, Not 911

Dr. Chelsea Kidwell

Dr. Chelsea Kidwell, director of the Georgetown University Stroke Center, says future stroke education campaigns "will need to emphasize that time is of the essence" when one experiences symptoms of a stroke.

May 6, 2011 – Almost seven out of 10 African-Americans in a new study by researchers at Georgetown University Medical Center said they would call a friend rather than 911 when experiencing stroke symptoms.

The research, published today online in the journal Stroke, shows that most of the people surveyed didn’t call for emergency help because they believed their symptoms were not serious enough and/or did not require treatment.

Such treatment is necessary in the first few hours in order to avoid serious side effects, the researchers say.

Lag Time

“It appears that current education campaigns are not fully achieving their goal in this community,” explains explains Dr. Chelsea Kidwell, director of the Georgetown University Stroke Center.  “Many say they know the signs of a stroke, but there’s a lag time in getting to the hospital."

 “Our current education campaigns focus an addressing this specific barrier by empowering the public to ‘be prepared for a stroke,’ she added. “Future campaigns will need to emphasize that time is of the essence – people need to not only know the warning signs of a stroke but also the need to call 911 right away.”

The survey is critical to understanding why many delay getting to a hospital where emergent care, such as tissue plasminogen activator (tPA) can be administered. The tPa treatment is designed to break up the blood clot in the brain causing the stroke and can significantly reduce the effects of stroke and reduce permanent disability.

But tPA must be given to the patient within the first few hours of the stroke symptoms. A delay in treatment can mean the difference between suffering serious side effects and full recovery.

The National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke (NINDS) and the National Institute on Minority Health and Health Disparities (NIMHD) funded the research.

Health Disparities

“Previous studies have shown that fewer blacks receive tPA than whites, and one reason is that they’re not getting to a hospital in time,” Kidwell explains. “We want to understand the reasons for these delays so we can focus our education campaigns in meaningful ways that will reduce this disparity.”

The Georgetown researchers administered a survey to 253 African Americans in the Washington, D.C. area. Another 100 structured interviews were conducted in a hospital with acute African American stroke patients.

In the sample predominantly urban, black population, those surveyed 89 percent (nearly nine of every 10) said they would call 911 first.

But in reality, more than seven of every 10 hospitalized of stroke patients interviewed – or 75 percent-- actually called a friend or family member first.

“Most of those we surveyed at the hospital said they called a friend or a relative first when they realized something was wrong,” says Kidwell. “When we drilled down a little further, we found that most thought their symptoms were not serious or that they would eventually resolve.”