Think it’s a stroke? 4 reasons it’s better to call 9-1-1 than drive yourself to the hospital

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Posted May 22, 2017 by Lieutenant Commander Erika Odom, Ph.D., M.S., United States Public Health Service

Stroke—also called a “brain attack”—can happen to anyone at any time. On average one American dies from stroke every 4 minutes. Most strokes happen when blood flow to the brain is blocked, causing brain cells to die. Stroke is the fifth leading cause of death in the United States and a major cause of long-term disability.

Your best chance for surviving a stroke and having a full recovery is getting to the hospital quickly. But did you know that 1 in 3 stroke patients doesn’t call an ambulance? Instead, they may not recognize they’re having a stroke, try to wait to see if their symptoms go away, or may try to drive themselves or have another person drive them to the emergency room. All of these things actually increases your risk for disability and death.

Learn why it’s always best to call 9-1-1 if you think that someone is having a stroke.

    1. EMS gets you to the hospital faster. You may think that you’ll get to the hospital faster if you drive yourself or have a loved one drive you during a stroke. But the truth is, the EMS professionals on board may be able to start your treatment right away. Think of calling 9-1-1 as bringing emergency room resources to your door. Ambulance drivers also have the right of way when they use lights and sirens.
    2. EMS saves precious time once you reach the hospital. You are more likely to be treated quicker at the hospital when you arrive by ambulance. This is because, on the way to the hospital, EMS professionals begin your treatment by:
      • Screening you for stroke symptoms.
      • Monitoring your heart rate and blood pressure.
      • Getting information about any medicines you take, your medical history, or other important information a medical team needs to know.
      • Calling ahead to the hospital to let the medical team know a stroke patient is arriving. This gives the hospital team time to prepare equipment and medicines that you may need.
    3. Every Minute CountsYou can get an important drug to treat stroke if you call 9-1-1. When it comes to stroke, time lost is brain lost. Every minute a stroke goes untreated, a patient loses nearly 2 million brain cells. Because stroke is often caused by a blood clot, a clot-busting drug such as alteplase is an effective treatment if you get to the hospital in time. But clot-busting drugs can only be given to patients within 3 hours of a stroke. EMS professionals responding to a 9-1-1 call about stroke will ask the patient and any bystanders questions about when the symptoms started, giving the medical team critical information about whether the patient can be treated with the clot-busting drug. At the hospital, you are also more likely to get alteplase if you arrive by ambulance. Many stroke patients who need the drug don’t get it, because they wait too long to call 9-1-1 or get to the hospital too late for treatment.
    4. EMS can get you to a hospital that specializes in stroke treatment. When stroke happens, getting to any hospital is important. But some hospitals are better equipped than others to treat stroke patients. Hospitals that specialize in stroke, like certified stroke centers, have developed standards of care for stroke patients and may have more staff, medicine, and equipment for treating stroke on hand. There are more than 1,000 certified stroke centers nationwide. Find a stroke center near you.

Stroke happens to nearly 800,000 Americans a year. Don’t hesitate to call 9-1-1 right away if you suspect a stroke is happening to you or someone else because that is the best chance at survival, treatment, and recovery.

May 21–27 is National Emergency Medical Services (EMS) Week. Learn how CDC’s Coverdell Program works with EMS professionals and state organizations to improve stroke care and save lives.

Posted May 22, 2017 by Lieutenant Commander Erika Odom, Ph.D., M.S., United States Public Health Service

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2 comments on “Think it’s a stroke? 4 reasons it’s better to call 9-1-1 than drive yourself to the hospital”

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    Given that many people don’t have health insurance and the ambulance trip may cost $1,000 or more, it’s not irrational for people to drive themselves. That also assumes a response time that may not be realistic. If you live in a nice suburban neighborhood, yes. But consider all the people who live in rural areas or low-income neighborhoods.

    My husband had fallen at home the nite of November 19th. In the early hours of the 20th I called EMS . Let them know my husband had fallen n had slurred speech and could not walk. Ambulance arrived. Took him to hospital. That same nite , my husband looked much worse then when he arrived at hospital. He was moving much better then in the nite of the 20th of November when stroke occurred. The next day Saturday the 22 st , he was paralyzed right side down. Did they not recognize stroke right away or I ask myself what happened in hospital. He was better as he was taken to hospital . Is it possible the stroke was worse during the day of November 20th while I hospital? Thank you Ms Alfaro

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Page last updated: August 10, 2017