November 18, 2011 / 10:36 PM / 8 years ago

TV spots increase awareness of stroke signs: study

NEW YORK (Reuters Health) - An educational TV campaign aimed at teaching the warning signs of stroke improved stroke awareness among Japanese women, but not men, a new study finds.

Researchers who recruited nearly 2000 adults in two Japanese cities and measured their stroke-savvy before and after the year-long public service campaign found that 51 percent of one study group knew the signs of stroke going into the study and that rose to 63 percent by the end. Women accounted for virtually all of the increase.

“Based on this study, women were more interested in health than men,” said Dr. Andrew Russman, a neurologist at the Harris Stroke Center at Henry Ford Hospital who was not involved in the study.

“But it could have been due to more women paying attention to the ads,” he told Reuters Health. “What’s missing is they didn’t determine why men weren’t watching these shows.”

Whether attention to TV ads translates into a change in behavior was also not addressed by the study.

When experiencing a stroke, a person loses blood supply to an area of the brain, and if not treated quickly, they can suffer from brain damage or even death. Recognizing the warning signs of stroke could save a life by getting treatment fast, experts say.

To see if TV could raise awareness of the signs that someone is having a stroke, researchers recruited 980 people aged 40 to 74 years in each of two cities in different regions of the country.

They surveyed all participants on their knowledge of stroke symptoms prior to launching a year-long campaign of twice-daily short TV spots and longer highlight shows in just one of the cities.

In the city where the campaign ran, 51 percent of the recruits could correctly identify at least five stroke symptoms at the outset of the study. In the “control” city, just 46 percent could do the same.

By the end of the study, those numbers were 63 percent and 51 percent, respectively.

More women watched the one-minute TV spots than men, showing a significant improvement in knowledge compared to men, the researchers report in the journal Stroke.

Russman thought the study didn’t address the importance of responding quickly when having a stroke.

For people experiencing an ischemic stroke, the most common form, treatment with clot-busting drugs, like tPA, can be life-saving. But the drug must be given within four hours of the stroke.

“If you don’t recognize symptoms early, you can’t initiate the 911 process to get yourself or a loved to the ER immediately,” Russman said.

About 800,000 Americans each year experience a new or recurrent stroke, according to the American Heart Association. The “brain attack,” as stroke is sometimes called, can kill up to 1.9 million brain cells, causing permanent brain damage.

Lead researcher Naomi Miyamatsu from Shiga University of Medical Science believes educational TV spots are an effective way of reaching out to the general public.

But “an effective public education campaign needs to be long-term and frequent, and requires national support,” she wrote.

Stroke education campaigns aren’t regularly seen on TV, Russman noted, and when they are, they can often be misleading.

“TV ads aren’t really addressing the main points of stroke, which is the early signs of stroke and that time is of the essence,” he said. “There have been attempts to do this, but not enough is being done.”

SOURCE: Stroke, November 11, 2011.

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