When Paramedics Suspect Stroke, They're Usually Right

FRIDAY, March 30 (HealthDay News) -- When paramedics say a patient's symptoms indicate a stroke, they are usually right, a new study suggests.

Researchers at Loyola University Medical Center in Chicago examined the records of 5,300 patients brought to the center's emergency department by emergency medical services.

The analysis revealed that paramedics identified stroke patients with a 99.3 percent specificity. A high specificity rate indicates there's a high probability the patient actually has the diagnosed condition.

"If a paramedic thinks a patient is having a stroke, that should be a reliable indicator that the hospital's stroke team should be activated," study co-author Dr. Michael Schneck, a professor in the departments of neurology and neurological surgery of Loyola University Chicago Stritch School of Medicine and medical director of the Neurosciences Intensive Care Unit, said in a Loyola news release.

However, the paramedics' sensitivity rate in identifying strokes was only 51 percent. This means that when paramedics suspected a patient was having a stroke, they were probably right, but they also missed many cases of stroke.

Of the 96 actual strokes, paramedics correctly identified 49 but missed 47. They were most likely to miss strokes in patients younger than 45, the findings showed.

Improvement in this area would help reduce the length of time it takes before stroke patients begin to receive treatment, the researchers said. Stroke, usually caused by a blood clot in the brain, is one of the many conditions in which paramedics are trained to begin treatment before the patient arrives at the hospital, they noted.

The study will be presented at the American Academy of Neurology's annual meeting, April 21 to 28 in New Orleans.

The data and conclusions of research presented at medical meetings are typically considered preliminary until published in a peer-reviewed medical journal.

More information

The U.S. National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke outlines stroke risk factors and symptoms.

SOURCE: Loyola Medicine, news release, March 27, 2012

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