Most African Americans call a friend or relative instead of 911 when they have symptoms of a stroke, potentially delaying arrival at a hospital and access to lifesaving treatment, according to a new study.
The findings, published online Thursday in the journal Stroke, offer a clue for researchers seeking to understand the disparities in stroke treatment between blacks and whites. The findings have particular significance for predominantly black urban populations, researchers said. The study, by researchers at Georgetown University Medical Center, included interviews with stroke patients at Washington Hospital Center, the Washington region’s largest hospital.
Researchers said the findings have already helped officials tailor educational materials for sessions that researchers are conducting in churches and health fairs across the District. The materials include emphasis on immediately calling 911 and address not just potential stroke victims but also children, siblings and friends.
Strokes are the third-leading cause of death in the United States. About 795,000 Americans each year suffer a new or recurrent stroke, meaning on average, someone has one every 40 seconds, according to the American Stroke Association.
A stroke occurs when a blood vessel in or leading to the brain bursts or is blocked by a blood clot, depriving the brain of the oxygen it needs. Depending on the severity of the stroke, immobility or paralysis might occur.
In the United States, the rate of first strokes in African Americans is almost double that of whites, researchers say, because of higher incidences of risk factors such as high blood pressure and obesity. And strokes tend to occur earlier in life for African Americans. Studies have also shown that fewer blacks than whites receive a treatment that breaks up the blood clot in the brain causing the stroke, in part because blacks are not getting to the hospital in time.
‘Drop everything and call'
“Every minute, more brain cells die,” said Chelsea Kidwell, director of Georgetown University’s Stroke Center, which conducted the research. Even though the window for treatment can be up to 41 / 2 hours for some people, “the time between hitting the emergency room door and getting the medication should be under 60 minutes,” she said.
Before the medication can be given, lab tests and brain scans need to be performed to determine whether the patient’s stroke results from a blockage, like a clogged pipe, or is more like a burst pipe, where a blood vessel has split open. The medication known as tPA, or tissue plasminogen activator, works like Drano but is only effective on the blockage type of strokes, Kidwell said. The treatment can significantly reduce the effects of a stroke and reduce permanent disability.