Imagine this scene: Your husband suddenly feels dizzy, goes numb in one arm or starts slurring his words. Odds are that you would urge him to call 911 or you’d do it yourself without delay, right? I sure would! Now suppose you were the one with the symptoms. Would you carry on with your tasks, stoically ignoring the problem and hoping it would just go away? Many wives would. In fact, when it comes to seeking help for possible symptoms of stroke, there’s an alarming discrepancy between husbands and wives, a recent study reveals.

Researchers analyzed data on 192 patients with acute stroke symptoms who were brought by emergency medical services (EMS) to the Mayo Clinic in Phoenix. Specifically, they looked at the number of minutes that elapsed between the time a patient first became aware of having symptoms and the time at which 911 was called. They found that, on average, married patients summoned EMS 44 minutes after symptoms were noticed, while single patients called 911 after 46 minutes—so there was no real difference there. And while single men summoned help quicker than single women did, the difference was not statistically significant.

But: Breaking down the data a different way, researchers discovered that when the patient was a married man, EMS was summoned in an average of just 28 minutes. Yet when the patient was a married woman, the delay between symptom awareness and the 911 call averaged 67 minutes!

Researchers speculate that we women are so used to being the caregivers in the family that we put others’ needs before our own. When symptoms arise, wives urge husbands to seek care immediately—but we don’t take as good care of ourselves. (When I asked whether this also could mean that husbands don’t take as good care of us wives as we take of them, the researchers declined to comment…though I’d say that this is worth talking to our men about!) Why women’s delay in summoning help is so worrisome: With stroke, every minute counts—the earlier patients get help, the more treatment options there are and the less devastating the consequences are likely to be. Also, women have a higher lifetime risk for stroke than men do…and more women than men die of stroke each year, according to the American Heart Association.

Self-defense: Memorize the symptoms of stroke and call 911 immediately if you experience any of the following…

  • Numbness or paralysis on one side of your face or body. Try smiling into a mirror or raising both arms over your head at the same time—a one-sided smile or an arm that won’t stay up could indicate a stroke.
  • Speech problems, such as slurring words or being unable to find the right words. Try repeating a simple sentence—if you can’t, that suggests a stroke.
  • Unexplained dizziness, loss of balance or difficulty walking.
  • Vision problems, such as blurred, double or blackened vision.
  • A sudden, severe “bolt out of the blue” headache.

More info: To see a video about the study and stroke symptoms, go to http://bit.ly/SLTtUU.