What should you do if you think someone is suffering a stroke? The right answer is to call 911 at the first signs of a stroke-but many Americans dont seem to have gotten the message. A comparison of admissions at hospital emergency departments nationwide between 1997 and 2008 showed little change in the percentage of stroke patients arriving by ambulance. Among 1,605 cases including all types of stroke, only 51% of stroke patients got to the emergency room by ambulance. Getting to the hospital quickly is important, because clot-buster medications for ischemic stroke should be administered within four and a half hours of symptom onset. Researchers at Weill Cornell Medical College commented that the apparent lack of change in the ambulance percentage suggests room for improvement in national public-education efforts to encourage dialing 911 at the earliest signs of a stroke. These warning signs include sudden numbness or weakness, especially on one side of the body; sudden trouble speaking or understanding; sudden difficulty seeing in one or both eyes; sudden trouble walking, dizziness, loss of balance or coordination; and sudden severe headache with no known cause. For more on strokes, see page 6 in this issue.
TO LEARN MORE: JAMA, March 14, 2012, jama.ama-assn.org/content/307/10/1026.extract.