Should I Drive a Stroke Patient to the Hospital or Not?

The short answer from a cerebrovascular expert

looking inside the back of an ambulance with an empty stretcher inside

Q: Is driving a stroke patient to the hospital better than waiting for an ambulance?

A: While driving a stroke patient to the hospital may initially seem like the best choice, calling 911 for an ambulance is the fastest way to get life-saving treatment to a stroke patient.

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A stroke is a medical emergency, and time is of the essence. The more time that passes between the stroke and treatment, the greater the risk of brain damage, and the harder it becomes to reverse symptoms. Early treatment with medications and other interventions can preserve brain tissue and prevent long-term disability and/or death.

The 911 operators know which hospitals are designated as stroke centers and can best provide care. Interventions can begin en route in the ambulance or the mobile stroke treatment unit.

Mobile stroke treatment units are essentially intensive care units on wheels. The unit’s team, guided by a stroke specialist back at the hospital, can examine and perform blood tests as well as CT scans on the patient. If indicated, they can start clot-busting drugs. This process saves precious time compared with driving to the hospital.

If you notice the signs of stroke in someone nearby, call 911 immediately to give them the best chance for long-term recovery.

In the meantime, if the person seems weak, encourage them to sit or lie down so that they don’t fall, and avoid giving them aspirin or water. Aspirin increases the risk of bleeding if the stroke was caused by a hemorrhage and water poses a choking hazard.

—Cerebrovascular specialist Zeshaun Khawaja, MD, MBA

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