But a Canadian study has found that patients admitted to hospital for ischemic stroke on a weekend have a higher risk of dying than patients admitted during the week.
This "weekend effect" has been previously documented in other conditions, such as cancer and pulmonary embolism, but little was previously known about its impact on stroke death, said lead author Dr. Gustavo Saposnik, a neurologist at St. Michael's Hospital in Toronto.
"This is a large, population-based study across Canada including different facilities - rural/urban, teaching/non-teaching facilities and small/large community," said Saposnik of the paper published Thursday in Stroke: Journal of the American Heart Association.
To conduct the study, researchers analyzed all hospital admissions for ischemic stroke in Canada from April 2003 to March 2004. An ischemic stroke, the most common type of stroke, is caused by a clot that blocks blood flow in an artery either leading to or inside the brain.
Of 26,676 stroke patients treated in 606 hospitals, 24.8 per cent were admitted on Saturdays and Sundays. Patients admitted on the weekend were age 75 on average, while those admitted on weekdays had an average age of 74.
After adjusting for age, sex and other medical conditions, researchers found that patients admitted on Saturdays or Sundays had a 14 per cent higher risk of dying within seven days of admission compared to patients admitted Monday to Friday.
The weekend death effect was even greater when patients were admitted to a rural hospital compared with an urban hospital and when the physician in charge was a general practitioner rather than a specialist. The study didn't define what type of specialist.
"Although the 'weekend effect' affected patients admitted to both rural and urban hospitals and those treated by general practitioners and specialists, the effect may be larger in patients admitted to rural hospitals and when the most responsible physician is a general practitioner," Saposnik said in a release.
But he stressed that a person with signs of stroke - which include abrupt difficulty speaking or understanding, dizziness, weakness or numbness affecting an arm or leg, or difficulty walking - must get to the hospital quickly no matter what day it is.
"Time is brain, so the sooner the patient seeks medical attention, the higher the chance of better outcome, no matter the day, time or living area."
Researchers said disparities in resources, expertise and staffing levels on weekends compared with weekdays may explain the difference in death rates.
Dr. Larry Goldstein, chair of the Stroke Council of the American Heart Association, also emphasized the importance of seeking immediate treatment whenever a person experiences stroke symptoms.
"Although the differences in weekend admission found in this study may be real, the potential benefits of obtaining early treatment would well outweigh the risk of waiting," Goldstein said in the release.
Copyright © 2007 Canadian Press