ORLANDO, Fla. March 25 -- A person who has a stroke during the night waits four to seven hours longer to seek emergency treatment than someone whose stroke occurs during the day, researchers report today at the American Heart Association meeting on epidemiology and prevention.
North Carolina researcher Wayne Rosamond, Ph.D., who presented the study, says, "The type of treatment a stroke patient receives is partially determined by the length of time since the stroke began. When a stroke starts during sleep, the person may only be aware of symptoms after he or she awakens. The exact time of onset is difficult to pinpoint and the physician can only assume that the stroke started soon after the individual went to sleep. This, of course, means that the delay time is longer than if we knew the exact moment of onset. Without a better way of pinpointing the onset of nighttime strokes, we have limited potential to treat these patients with thrombolytic drugs."
Just a few years ago, few treatments for stroke existed, but now clot-busters -- or thrombolytics -- can dissolve the clots that cause most strokes and thus prevent brain damage, says Rosamond, assistant professor of epidemiology at the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill.
The researchers looked at the reasons for delays in treatment of patients with ischemic stroke, the most common type of stroke, which occurs when blood flow is impeded by a blocked artery in the brain. Stroke is the No. 3 cause of death and a major cause of disability in the United States. About 600,000 strokes occur each year, 160,000 of which are fatal.
In the study, 559 patients with stroke-like symptoms were questioned upon arrival at hospital emergency departments in North Carolina, South Carolina and Colorado about when their symptoms first occurred. If the symptoms were present when the person awoke, the individual was asked to reveal the last time he or she was free of symptoms.