SARASOTA, Fla. (May 20, 2014) – A recent study finds that most stroke victims are within reach of potentially life-saving treatment – they're just not getting it.
People suffering a stroke caused by a blood clot – which most strokes are – can be treated with a medication called tissue plasminogen activator (tPA). As long as the drug is given within three hours of the first symptoms, it can break up the blood clot and help limit brain damage from the stroke.
But a study of Medicare patients found that only 4 percent of the more than 370,000 Medicare patients who suffered a stroke in 2011 were treated with tPA. Researchers said patients either did not get to the hospital in a timely manner, or went to a hospital that was unable to provide the right care.
After three hours, the risks of administering tPA outweigh the potential benefits.
“The process for determining the proper use of tPA is difficult and not every hospital is able to commit the resources, time and effort to aggressively and effectively treat stroke patients, as Sarasota Memorial has done,” said Stroke Neurologist Mauricio Concha, medical director of Sarasota Memorial’s Comprehensive Stroke Center.
That's why it's critical that people call 911 at the first stroke symptom, instead of having someone drive them to the ER, Concha said. In general, paramedics know which local hospitals are certified stroke centers. That can prevent unnecessary delays and hospital transfers.
Although tPA has been available for more than a decade, it is not used as frequently as it could be because of the risks to patients who have a hemorrhagic stroke or complex condition that could lead to fatal bleeding in the brain, said Concha.
In the Suncoast region, patients are often transported – sometimes by helicopter from adjacent counties – to Sarasota Memorial’s Comprehensive Stroke Center, where a highly specialized stroke team is on call 24/7 to ensure a rapid assessment and treatment. Hospitals certified as Comprehensive Stroke Centers, like Sarasota Memorial, offer patients the best treatment options – and their best chance of recovery.
Indeed, in 2013, 100 percent of patients who came to Sarasota Memorial with symptoms of an ischemic stroke within two hours of the onset of their symptoms and no contraindications were treated with the life-sparing drug tPA. More than half were treated in less than 60 minutes – an achievement that has earned Sarasota Memorial the American Heart & Stroke Association’s Stroke Gold Plus award and special recognition on its national honor roll.
“Receiving tPA can make the difference between life and quality of life,” Concha said. “Stroke is the #1 cause of disability in our country – but patients who receive the treatment have a 30 percent or better chance of leaving the hospital with minimal or no disability.”
Stroke Prevention & Support
Learn about Sarasota Memorial’s Secondary Stroke & TIA Prevention Clinic and other resources that can help prevent stroke at smh.com/stroke. Or join our support group: (941) 917-7048