Background and Purpose: New treatments for acute stroke will likely have to be given soon after stroke onset. Little is known about stroke patients' general knowledge about stroke, their interpretation of stroke symptoms, and how these factors influence the timing of their decision to seek medical attention. Methods: We interviewed consecutive stroke patients within 72 hours of stroke onset to define factors influencing time of arrival to the emergency department. Data recorded included demographic information, method of transportation, type of stroke symptoms, the patient's interpretation of the symptoms, previous stroke, and knowledge of stroke warning signs. Stroke severity was measured with the Barthel Index. Early arrival was defined as within 3 hours of awareness of symptoms. Results: Sixty-seven patients were interviewed; 96% had an ischemic stroke and 4% a cerebral hemorrhage. Although 38% of patients professed to know the warning signs of stroke, only 25% correctly interpreted their symptoms. Patients with prior stroke were more likely to correctly interpret their symptoms (45% versus 16%; P=.03) but were not more likely to present early (19% versus 39%; P=.35). Eighty-six percent of patients presenting more than 3 hours after stroke onset thought that their symptoms were not serious. The 24% (n= 16) of early arrivals were more likely to arrive by ambulance (81% versus 38%; P=.003) and had more severe strokes (Barthel Index score of 49 versus 72; P=.01) than late arrivals. Arrival by ambulance was independently associated with early arrival (odds ratio, 5.55; 95% confidence interval 1.37 to 22.6). Conclusions: Approximately one quarter of stroke patients correctly interpret their symptoms as representing a stroke. This knowledge is not associated with early presentation to the emergency department. Ambulance transport is independently associated with early arrival at the emergency department. Even when patients know that they are having a stroke, most present late because they perceive their symptoms as 'not serious.' Widespread public education of stroke-prone individuals may increase the proportion of patients eligible for new acute stroke treatments.
- health education
- stroke onset
- stroke, acute
ASJC Scopus subject areas
- Cardiology and Cardiovascular Medicine