Catch a stroke in time to save a mind

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Timing is crucial in the treatment of most medical conditions and none more so than acute stroke. In such cases, experts urge patients and doctors to heed a narrow window of 4.5 hours. This is the amount of time that can elapse between stroke onset and the administration of a clot-busting medication, such as tissue plasminogen activator (tPA), that can significantly reduce the risk of brain damage. Since the 1997 advent of tPA, medical experts have increased their efforts to get stroke victims to the hospital as soon as possible. Disappointingly, however, a recent paper in the journal Stroke reported that only 4 percent of stroke patients were receiving tPA largely because they were arriving at the hospital too late.

At the first signs of a stroke, the best thing to do is to call an ambulance immediately. And still, 15 years after tPA became available, only 51 percent of stroke victims in the U.S. arrive at the emergency room via ambulance, according to a report this week in the Journal of the American Medical Association.

Because tPA can remarkably reduce the duration, intensity, and damage of a stroke, people should recognize and react as quickly as possible to stroke symptoms: unilateral numbness of the face, arms, or legs; difficulty speaking or understanding others; sudden trouble walking, dizziness, or loss of coordination or balance; trouble seeing out of one or both eyes; sudden onset of a severe headache.

As ACSH s Dr. Gilbert Ross notes, At such a critical juncture, ill patients and their loved ones should resist the temptation to hop in the family car or call a friend or relative for assistance. This is exactly what 911 is for! Minutes equal brain cells being damaged, and arriving in the ER via ambulance will find the acute care team assembled and ready. Arriving via cab or car will sometimes lead to wasted time filling out forms just don t do that.