Background: the recognition of stroke symptoms by the public and activation of the emergency medical services (EMS) are the most important factors in instigating pre-hospital stroke care. Studies have suggested that poor recognition of the warning signs of stroke is the main cause of delay in accessing the EMS.
Methods: an integrative review of published studies about stroke knowledge and awareness was performed by searching online bibliographic databases, using keywords, from 1966 to 2008. Studies were included in the review if they focussed on risk factors, signs and symptoms, action and information. Each study was reviewed by two researchers (SJ and MJ).
Results: we identified 169 studies of which 39 were included in the review. The ability to name one risk factor for stroke varied between studies, ranging from 18% to 94% when asked open-ended questions and from 42% to 97% when asked closed questions. The ability to name one symptom ranged from 25% to 72% when asked open-ended questions and from 95% to 100% when asked closed questions. When asked what action people would take if they thought they were having a stroke, between 53% and 98% replied that they would call
the EMS. People generally obtained information about stroke from family and friends. Older members of the population, ethnic minority groups and those with lower levels of education had consistently poor levels of stroke knowledge.
Conclusions: generally, levels of knowledge about recognising and preventing stroke were poor. Nevertheless, most participants stated they would contact the EMS at the onset of stroke symptoms