Public Release: 

Knowledge Of Stroke Lacking, Even Among Patient Survivors

American Heart Association

DALLAS, Oct. 14 -- Even people who have had a stroke don't always know the signs, symptoms and risk factors relating to their "brain attack", according to a study in today's Stroke, a journal of the American Heart Association.

Researchers at the University of Cincinnati found that nearly 4 of 10 stroke patients surveyed in hospital emergency departments lacked basic knowledge of the signs, symptoms or risk factors of a stroke. Ironically, patients over 65 -- who face the greatest risk -- knew even less about "brain attacks" than other groups.

"The people we interviewed had just had a stroke and only a small percentage could identify signs or symptoms, which was surprising," says lead author Rashmi Kothari, M.D., assistant professor, department of emergency medicine, at the University of Cincinnati. "What's even more disturbing is that those people at the highest risk knew even less."

Recognizing the signs and symptoms of a stroke is important, the researchers emphasize, because treatment with thrombolytic or "clot-busting" drugs can reduce the effects of most strokes, but only if the treatment is given within three hours of the onset of symptoms.

In the study, people admitted to the hospital emergency rooms because they were possibly having a stroke were given a standardized, structured interview with open-ended questions about stroke within 48 hours of the onset of symptoms.

Of the 174 eligible patients, 163 were able to respond to interview questions. Of those, 39 percent (63 patients) did not know a single sign or symptom of stroke. A feeling of weakness (26 percent) and numbness (22 percent) were the most frequently noted symptoms. Nearly half of the patients who were asked, "What part of the body is injured during a stroke?" did not realize that stroke was due to an injury to the brain. Ten percent of respondents thought stroke was an injury to the heart.

"We have to do a better job of communicating two things," says Kothari. "One, people need to know the signs, symptoms and risk factors of stroke. Two, stroke is an emergency and people need to call 911 immediately when someone is having a stroke."

One of the reasons that people may not know a great deal about stroke is that their sources of information are so varied. When asked about their primary source of information regarding stroke, 41 percent didn't know and 35 percent said friends or family. Only 2 percent said they received information on stroke from medical professionals.

"Friends and family play such a huge role because when something like a stroke happens to someone you know, you tend to hear more about it," Kothari says. "The medical professional can make a huge difference. There are many opportunities to improve information delivery there."

The American Heart Association says the warning signs of stroke are:

  • sudden weakness or numbness of the face, arm or leg on one side of the body;
  • loss of speech, or trouble talking or understanding speech;
  • sudden, severe headaches with no known or apparent cause;
  • sudden dimness or loss of vision, particularly in one eye; and
  • unexplained dizziness, unsteadiness or sudden falls, especially along with any of the previous symptoms.

Co-authors of the study are Laura Sauerbeck, R.N., BSN; Edward Jauch, M.D., M.S.; Joseph Broderick, M.D.; Thomas Brott, M.D.; Jane Khoury, M.S.; Tiepu Liu, M.D., Dr.PH.

Stroke is one of five journals published by the American Heart Association, which is based in Dallas.

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Media advisory: Dr. Kothari can be reached at (513) 558-5281. (Please do not publish telephone numbers.)

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