Act Fast to Stop Stroke's Brain Damage
Every Minute's Delay in Seeking Help Costs Nearly 2 Million Brain Cells
Dec. 8, 2005 -- Doctors have long urged people to get medical help at the
first sign of a possible stroke.
Now, a new study highlights what happens to brain cells, or neurons, when
stroke treatment is delayed.
"Every minute you wait, hoping your symptoms will go away, you lose
almost two million brain cells," Jeffrey Saver, MD, says in a news
Saver is a neurology professor at UCLA. He also works at UCLA's Stroke
No. 3 Cause of Death
Saver studied the most common type of stroke, called ischemic stroke.
In an ischemic stroke, a clot blocks blood flow to the brain. That starves
brain cells of oxygen. When those brain cells die, the result can be paralysis,
difficulty speaking or seeing, emotional problems, and other problems.
Of course, stroke can also be deadly. It's the No. 3 cause of death for U.S.
Every year, about 700,000 Americans have a stroke and nearly 163,000 die of
stroke, according to the American Stroke Association.
'Time Is Brain'
Saver calculated brain damage caused by delaying treatment for ischemic
He sums up his findings in the phrase, "time is brain." That is,
delayed treatment heightens stroke's brain damage.
"Compared with the normal rate of neuron loss in brain aging, the
ischemic brain ages 3.6 years each hour without treatment," Saver
An untreated stroke unfolds over an average of 10 hours, Saver notes. That
means a brain could age 36 years if it goes through the full 10 hours of a
stroke without treatment.
"Every second counts," Saver writes. By his estimate, each second's
delay costs 32,000 brain cells. "The figures stagger and motivate,"
Quick Treatment Essential
Stroke can be treated. But fast action is a must. Stroke drugs have to be
given within a few hours of the start of stroke symptoms.
Stroke patients may need bystanders' help, Saver notes in the news
"It is often up to witnesses to recognize what is going on and make the
call for them," he says. "Knowing just how much is at stake, family
members and co-workers should feel empowered to call 911," he
"Don't try to tough it out, and don't waste time trying to get in touch
with your primary physician or neurologist," Saver says. "You need
The American Stroke Association lists these warning signs of a possible
- Sudden numbness or weakness of the face, arm, or leg, especially on one
side of the body
- Sudden confusion, trouble speaking, or understanding
- Sudden trouble seeing in one or both eyes
- Sudden trouble walking, dizziness, or loss of balance or coordination
- Sudden severe headache with no known cause
The chances of having a stroke rise with age. They're also higher for blacks
than for whites, for smokers than for nonsmokers, for people who've already had
a stroke or heart attack, and for men.
Not smoking, getting proper medical care, and being physically active (with
your doctor's permission) can help