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Experiences and Illness Perceptions of Patients with Functional Symptoms Admitted to Hyperacute Stroke Wards: A Mixed-Method Study

Authors O'Connell N, Jones A, Chalder T, David AS

Received 26 February 2020

Accepted for publication 7 July 2020

Published 24 July 2020 Volume 2020:16 Pages 1795—1805


Checked for plagiarism Yes

Review by Single anonymous peer review

Peer reviewer comments 3

Editor who approved publication: Dr Roger Pinder

Nicola O’Connell,1 Abbeygail Jones,2 Trudie Chalder,2 Anthony S David3

1Department of Public Health and Primary Care, School of Medicine, Trinity College Dublin, Dublin, Ireland; 2Department of Psychological Medicine, Institute of Psychiatry, Psychology and Neuroscience, King’s College London, London, UK; 3UCL Institute of Mental Health, University College London, London, UK

Correspondence: Nicola O’Connell
Department of Public Health and Primary Care, Trinity College Dublin, Russell Centre, Tallaght Cross, Dublin 24, Ireland
Tel +353 1 896 3716
Email [email protected]

Introduction: A proportion of patients admitted to acute-stroke settings have not had a stroke, but have conditions mimicking a stroke. Approximately 25% of suspected stroke cases are “stroke mimics” and 2% are patients with functional symptoms — “functional stroke mimics”. This study aimed to explore experiences and illness perceptions of patients with functional symptoms admitted to hyperacute stroke wards.
Methods: This study used mixed methods. Patients with functional stroke symptoms participated in semistructured qualitative interviews immediately after admission to one of two acute-stroke units in London and again 2 months after hospital discharge. Qualitative data were assessed using thematic analysis. The Brief Illness Perception Questionnaire (Brief-IPQ) measured illness perceptions at admission and at 2-month follow-up.
Results: A total of 36 participants completed baseline interviews and 25 completed follow-up. Six themes emerged: physical symptom experience, emotional and coping responses, symptom causes, hospital experiences, views on the future, and uncertainty after hospital discharge. Mean Brief-IPQ score at admission was 49.3 (SD: 9.9), indicating a moderate–high level of perceived illness threat. Participants presented with a range of functional symptoms. At baseline, participants were highly concerned about their symptoms, but this had decreased at 2-month follow-up. Two months later, many were confused as to the cause of their admission.
Conclusion: This is the first study to examine functional stroke patients’ experiences of acute-stroke admission. At admission, patients expressed confusion regarding their diagnosis, experienced high levels of emotional distress, and were concerned they were perceived as time wasting by stroke clinicians. While most participants experienced symptom recovery, there was a significant subgroup for whom symptoms persisted or worsened. A lack of care guidelines on the management of functional stroke patients may perpetuate functional symptoms.

Keywords: functional stroke symptoms, stroke mimic, unexplained medical symptoms, qualitative research

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