Prompt medical assistance can reduce the amount of time a stroke victim is disabled, according to a new study. Every minute counts in getting treatment, as stroke victims can lose as much as one month of healthy life for every 15-minute delay in treatment.
The American Stroke Association says the clot-busting drug Tissue Plasminogen Activator (TPA) should be given within four and a half hours after stroke symptoms begin, but a new study, published in the journal Stroke, shows that the earlier TPA is received the better. The study, from the University of Melbourne in Australia, says stroke victims gain 1.8 days of healthy life for every minute sooner treatment is received.
The study concluded that even small reductions in treatment delays resulted in substantial health benefits over a patient’s lifetime.
The study used data from drug trials of major clot-busting drugs on more than 2,200 stroke survivors in Finland and Australia and looked at patient outcomes based on when they were given TPA, to calculate what would have occurred if treatment had been slower or faster.
Faster treatment helped everyone, but especially younger patients, who have a longer life expectancy. The average age of stroke patients in the study was 75 years. The treatment worked regardless of race or gender, say the study’s authors.
Researchers note that the fastest stroke treatment services worldwide are in Finland, Helsinki and Melbourne, where the time from hospital arrival to treatment is about 20 minutes. In most other centers, including America, it takes an average of 70 to 80 minutes to get treatment.
Data shows that in England it took an average of two hours and 25 minutes for victims to receive the drug from the onset of symptoms. Some paramedics are trained to give clot-busting drugs in the ambulance or at home, and experts would like to make this practice more prevalent.
With the reduction of disability of one additional month for every 15-minutes sooner a stroke victim receives treatment, the importance of prompt medical assistance is reinforced.
Researchers say the main delay in getting treatment is due to people not calling for help when stroke symptoms appear. People who develop symptoms of stroke, such as speech problems, face droop, or arm or leg weakness, should call for help immediately.
The American Stroke Association uses the acronym “FAST” to help with remembering stroke symptoms: Face drooping, Arm Weakness, Speech difficulty, Time to call 911. Patient should never wait even a single minute for stroke symptoms to go away, but should immediately call for help.
Stroke is the leading cause of adult disability, and the fourth leading cause of death in the U.S. Stroke happens when blood flow to the brain stops. Brain cells begin to die within minutes. Hemorrhagic stroke is when a blood vessel in the brain breaks and bleeds. Ischemic stroke occurs in about 87 percent of cases and is caused by a blood clot. Getting blood flow restored to the brain is key to brain survival.
Study authors say they have always known how important prompt medical assistance was for stroke, but they have never known just how significant it is in reducing disability. Save a minute, save a day is the study’s message.
By Beth A. Balen