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Mexican Americans less likely to call for help after a stroke, study says

March 26, 2010 | 10:48 am

Mexican Americans are less likely than Caucasians to call for medical assistance after a stroke, but an alarmingly low proportion of both groups actually called for help and less than a third arrived at a hospital within three hours of the stroke, the so-called golden window of time in which clot-busting therapy is most effective, researchers reported Thursday. "Stroke is a bad disease, but it is the most treatable of the bad diseases," said Dr. Lewis B. Morgenstern of the University of Michigan, lead author of the study appearing in Stroke: Journal of the American Heart Assn. "Something can be done for ischemic stroke if you call 911 and get to the hospital in time," he said in a statement. Ischemic strokes result from a blood clot impairing blood flow to parts of the brain.

Moregenstern and his colleagues used data from the Brain Attack Surveillance in Corpus Christi project to compare use of emergency medical services and hospital arrival time in 1,134 Mexican Americans and whites who suffered ischemic strokes between 2000 and 2006. Subjects were 45 or older and 53% were Mexican American; 52% were women.

The team found that only 40% of Mexican Americans called for emergency medical services (EMS), compared with 56% of whites. Only 27% of the former group arrived at a hospital within three hours, and 29% of the latter. Language did not play a role in how soon patients arrived at the hospital. "In this study, less than half of people use EMS for stroke," Morgenstern said. "That's sobering. Everyone should know that we have effective treatments for stroke, so they must learn the symptoms and be motivated to call 911." Driving to the hospital or having someone take you is not an effective alternative, he added. When EMS takes patients to the hospital, they arrive faster, the responders call in advance to have the emergency room's stroke response team ready to go, and doctors and nurses respond faster to patients arriving by ambulance.

Everyone should be familiar with stroke symptoms:

-- Sudden numbness or weakness of the face, arm or leg, especially on one side of the body

-- Sudden confusion and trouble speaking or understanding

-- Sudden trouble seeing in one or both eyes

-- Sudden trouble walking, dizziness and loss of balance or coordination

-- Sudden severe headache with no known cause

The results are particularly concerning, Morgenstern concluded, because Mexican Americans, like blacks, are at a higher risk of strokes and tend to have them at younger ages.

-- Thomas H. Maugh II