The analysis suggests that public education about stroke needs improvement in both countries, researchers say.
In the U.S., stroke is the fifth leading cause of death and a major cause of disability in adults, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
If a stroke victim gets to the hospital within three hours of the first symptoms, doctors can infuse drugs to break up blood clots, which are the most common cause of stroke. Stroke victims who get these clot-busters within that window are more likely to make a full recovery and have less lingering disability.
But this type of acute treatment is underused, mainly because stroke victims often delay calling an ambulance, said lead author Stephan Dombrowski, a health psychologist at the University of Stirling in Scotland, by email.
He and his colleagues did telephone surveys of nearly 500 people in Ingham County, Michigan, in the midwestern U.S. and around 800 people in Newcastle upon Tyne in northeastern England. Survey participants were provided with potential stroke scenarios and asked how they would respond.
People in the U.S. were significantly better at recognizing whether a person was having a stroke, with 70 percent answering correctly compared to 63 percent in the U.K., according to the results in the journal Stroke.
There was little difference, however, in how likely people were to call emergency services in response to a stroke. Around 55 percent of the Americans and 52 percent of the English said they would call an ambulance.
People who believed that medical treatment could help and felt they had an understanding of stroke were more likely to recognize and correctly respond to stroke scenarios.
Kathleen Dracup told Reuters Health that if a person is alone while having a stroke, they may not notice some of the symptoms such as changes in facial muscles or slurred speech.
Dracup, an emeritus dean and professor of nursing at the University of California, San Francisco, studies help-seeking behavior in stroke and heart patients. She also said that the possibility of a stroke can cause people a lot of anxiety.
"A common response to that anxiety is denial, which leads the individuals experiencing symptoms, as well as their loved ones, to dismiss the symptoms as normal . . . or ascribe them to something else (e.g. fatigue from recent exercise)," said Dracup, who was not involved in the study.
Dombrowski noted that a quick way to remember the signs of stroke is with the acronym FAST: Face-Arms-Speech-Time. Stroke victims may have Facial drooping on one side, may be unable to lift up both Arms, may have slurred or garbled Speech and should waste no Time when calling emergency services.
Other symptoms can include numbness or weakness on one side of the body, confusion, trouble seeing on one side, loss of coordination or balance, or severe headache, he added.
"Always call 911 (emergency services) if stroke is suspected. Do not try and call your physician or health care provider," Dracup said by email.