Strokes rob far too many people of their ability to speak and move. But now doctors are giving stroke patients an intravenous drug that can restore them to normal. There is a catch: timing.
Most stroke are caused by clots that block blood flow to the brain. When that happens, brain cells die: some two million each minute. To limit the damage, the drug tPA, short for tissue plasminogen activator, can quickly dissolve the clot to get the blood flowing again.
Dr. Bruce Lo, director of emergency medicine at Sentara Norfolk General Hospital, told CBN News tPA is a game changer.
"I've seen patients who've had significant neurological symptoms who have completely resolved with this drug," he said.
With less damage comes faster recovery. Most tPA patients can go home, not to a rehabilitation facility.
While tPA can restore people to normal, as many as 90-percent of stroke victims are unable to receive it because they arrive at the hospital too late. tPA must be given within four hours of the onset of stroke symptoms, and many people don't recognize the signs soon enough.
They happen suddenly and often include:
- Numbness or weakness of the face, arm or leg, especially on one side of the body
- Confusion, to include not speaking or understanding well
- Trouble seeing in one or both eyes
- Difficulty walking, dizziness and losing balance
Dr. Lo says stroke symptoms can be subtle.
"You may not recognize you're having a stroke," he explained, "A lot of times people are in denial because they're not having pain and it doesn't feel urgent like a heart attack does, so a lot of times people may wait and delay and our ability to treat with interventions like tPA don't become an option any more, unfortunately."
Patients should call 9-1-1 immediately upon experiencing any of these symptoms because emergency crews can start treatment on the way to the hospital.
"Definitely the sooner that we give the tPA the better," Dr. Lo said, "We know that if we give it to them within the first 60 minutes of symptom onset that people have the best outcomes."
Learning stroke symptoms and taking quick action, should the appear, matter greatly because beating a stroke often comes down to beating the clock.
Learn more about how to spot the signs and symptoms of a stroke by visiting The National Stroke Association online.