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Many Stroke Patients Don't Get Quick Treatment

Clot-Busting Drugs Are Effective, but They Must Be Given Soon After a Stroke
WebMD Health News
Reviewed by Laura J. Martin, MD

June 3, 2010 -- About one in four patients makes it to the hospital during a stroke within an hour of the onset of symptoms -- the optimal time for treatment with clot-busting drugs, a study shows.

But just one in five of these patients who were candidates for the treatment actually got it within an hour of hospital arrival.

Most strokes are caused by blood clots that block the flow of blood to the brain. Clot-busting tPa drugs help dissolve these blood clots, but prompt treatment is critical.

The drugs can be used up to 4 and 1/2 hours after stroke symptoms first occur, and national guidelines call for the treatment of eligible patients within 60 minutes of arrival at the hospital.

When researchers examined hospital data on almost 107,000 stroke patients, they found that this goal was met for just 18% of treatment-eligible patients who got to the hospital within 60 minutes of first recognizing symptoms.

The study was published online today in the journal Stroke.

Neurologist and researcher Lee H. Schwamm, MD, of Massachusetts General Hospital, says patients who arrive at the hospital earliest stand to benefit most from treatment, but medical personnel may not act as quickly when they know the treatment window is longer.

"It is human nature to slow down when you have more time," he tells WebMD. "Someone who is evaluating a patient may take an extra 15 minutes to review a scan or consult with a family member when they think they have the time. But patients need to be treated as soon as possible."

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