Background: A Healthy People 2010 objective includes increasing public awareness of the warning signs of stroke, yet few data exist about the level of awareness. Recognition of stroke symptoms and awareness of the need to call 911 for acute stroke events were examined among the general population.
Methods: Data are from 61,019 adults participating in the 2001 Behavioral Risk Factor Surveillance System, a state-based telephone survey. Respondents indicated whether the following were symptoms of stroke: confusion/trouble speaking; numbness/weakness of face, arm, or leg; trouble seeing; chest pain (false symptom); trouble walking, dizziness, or loss of balance; and severe headache with no known cause. Persons also reported the first action they would take if they thought someone was having a stroke.
Results: Only 17.2% of respondents overall (5.9% to 21.7% by state) correctly classified all stroke symptoms and indicated that they would call 911 if they thought someone was having a stroke. Recognition of all symptoms and knowledge of when to call 911 were comparable by gender but lower among ethnic minorities, younger and older people, those with less education, and current smokers compared to whites, middle-aged people, those with more education, and nonsmokers, respectively. There were no substantive differences by history of hypertension, diabetes, heart disease, or stroke.
Conclusions: Public recognition of major stroke symptoms is low. Educational campaigns to increase awareness among the general population and targeted messages to those at high-risk persons and their families may help to improve time to treatment for adults suffering acute strokes.