Patients younger than 45 might underestimate the urgency of stroke symptoms and most say they would delay going to the hospital for help, according to a national survey by Ronald Reagan UCLA Medical Center.

OT_News-01“Timely treatment for stroke is probably more important than for almost any other medical problem there is,” David Liebeskind, MD, professor of neurology, director of Outpatient Stroke and Neurovascular Programs and director of the Neurovascular Imaging Research Core at Ronald Reagan UCLA Medical Center, said in a news release. “There is a very limited window in which to start treatment because the brain is very sensitive to a lack of blood flow or to bleeding, and the longer patients wait, the more devastating the consequences.”

Physicians refer to the three hours after a person experiences the first stroke symptom as the golden window, or the period of time patients need to receive care to restore blood flow to the brain and minimize or reverse damage.

For the survey, 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 younger than 45, only about 1 out of 3 said they would be very likely to go to the hospital, with 73% saying they would likely wait to see whether their symptoms improved.

“That’s a real problem,” Liebeskind said in the release. “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 adults ages 18-45 discharged from U.S. hospitals after suffering a stroke has jumped as much as 53%, according to a study published in the September 2013 issue of Neurology. CDC statistics show more than 795,000 people suffer a stroke in the U.S. each year.

Ischemic stroke can happen to anyone at any age, and often is associated with high blood pressure, diabetes, smoking and obesity.

“Believe it or not, it’s on the order of minutes or hours when somebody has to seek medical attention,” Liebeskind said in the release. “There simply is no time to wait. It’s a message that we clearly need to get to younger people more effectively.”

Stroke symptoms: