Posted: Friday, January 29, 2016 – 3:17 PM
The period of time up to three hours after a person experiences the first symptom of a stroke is referred to as the “golden window”—the time doctors say is crucial for patients to receive medical care to restore blood flow to the brain and minimize or reverse damage.
But a new national survey by Ronald Reagan UCLA Medical Center shows that younger patients, those under 45, may underestimate the urgency of stroke symptoms. Most say they would likely delay going to the hospital for help.
“Timely treatment for stroke is more important than for almost any other medical problem,” said David Liebeskind, MD, director of Outpatient Stroke and Neurovascular Programs at UCLA. “There’s a limited window in which to start treatment, because the brain is very sensitive to a lack of blood flow or to bleeding. The longer patients wait, the more devastating the consequences.”
Researchers asked more than 1,000 people nationwide what they would be likely to do within the first three hours of experiencing weakness, numbness, difficulty speaking or difficulty seeing, all common symptoms of a stroke. Among those under age 45, only about one out of three said they would be very likely to go to the hospital. A staggering 73 percent said they would likely wait to see if their symptoms improved.
“That’s a real problem,” Liebeskind said. “We need to educate younger people about the symptoms of stroke and convince them of the urgency of the situation, because the numbers are going up.”
Since the mid-1990s, the number of young adults between 18 and 45 discharged from U.S. hospitals after suffering a stroke has jumped as much as 53 percent. It’s estimated someone has a stroke about every 40 seconds in the U.S., totaling nearly 800,000 new stroke patients a year.
In 2007, Jennifer Reilly was one of them.
“I woke up in the middle of the night with an excruciating headache,” Reilly said. “I was 27 years old, pretty active, pretty healthy and was not prone to headaches. I thought it was a really odd thing that happened.”
After arriving at work that day, Reilly shared her story with a co-worker, who insisted she go to the hospital immediately. Reilly eventually ended up at Ronald Reagan UCLA Medical Center, where Liebeskind told her she’d had a stroke.
“I was really skeptical,” said Reilly. “I didn’t have any of what I thought were the classic symptoms of a stroke, nor did I fit the classic description of a stroke patient. I was 27 and healthy.”
Ischemic stroke, when blood vessels become blocked, can happen to anyone at any age, and is often associated with high blood pressure, diabetes, smoking and obesity. A healthy diet and regular exercise, as well as not smoking and limiting alcohol consumption, have all been shown to lower the risk of stroke.