Information about stroke and stroke treatment

Answers to some of the most common questions about stroke treatment.

Table of Contents

What is an acute stroke?

Acute stroke refers to a current blockage in a vessel to or in the brain that has just occurred (within hours of its onset). Prompt treatment improves the chances of survival and decreases disability that may be expected. A person who may have suffered a stroke should be seen in a hospital Emergency Department without delay. If given within three hours of when the person was last known to be well, a clot-busting drug called intravenous-tissue plasminogen activator (IV-tPA) can reduce long-term disability for ischemic stroke - the most common type of stroke. IV-tPA is the only medication approved for the treatment of acute stroke.

What is the difference between an ischemic stroke and a hemorrhagic stroke?

An ischemic stroke occurs when there is a blocked artery causing a lack of blood supply to the brain. Ischemic strokes are the most common type of stroke. A hemorrhagic stroke occurs when blood from an artery bleeds into the brain or bursts.

What is IV-tPA?

Intravenous Tissue Plasminogen Activator (also known as IV-tPA or Alteplase) is a thrombolytic agent (clot-busting drug). It is approved for use in certain patients having a heart attack or stroke. The drug can dissolve blood clots, which cause most heart attacks and strokes. IV-tPA is the only drug approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) for the acute, urgent treatment of ischemic stroke.

How does IV-tPA/Alteplase help people having a stroke?

IV-tPA (or Alteplase) has been shown to be effective in treating ischemic stroke, the kind of stroke that is caused by blood clots that block blood flow to the brain. In 1996 the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) approved the use of IV-tPA to treat ischemic stroke in the first three hours after the start of symptoms in eligible patients. (Note: Not all patients qualify for IV-tPA. The best way to determine if you qualify is to be assessed as soon as possible). It is very important for people who think that they are having a stroke to seek help immediately and call 9-1-1. If given promptly, IV-tPA can significantly reduce the effects of stroke and reduce permanent disability. IV-tPA is FDA approved only to be given to a person within the first three hours after the start of their stroke symptoms which is why it is so important for stroke patients to get to the hospital quickly.

What does "time last known well" mean?

Sometimes it is easy to determine when stroke symptoms began especially if they are witnessed by another person. However, other times it may be difficult to establish when the symptoms of a stroke started. In these circumstances it is important to know when the patient was last known to be functioning normally (before their stroke symptoms started) to determine treatment and to reduce the risk of a complication with IV-tPA. This is known as the time "last known well," and it is the earliest possible time at which the stroke might have begun.

What is a transient ischemic attack, or TIA?

A transient ischemic attack, also called a TIA or a “mini stroke” occurs when there is a temporary interruption of blood supply to the brain. A TIA produces similar symptoms to a stroke but it may not cause permanent damage. A TIA can be a warning sign that a stroke may occur in the future.

Why is it important to call 911 for a stroke?

A stroke is a medical emergency that requires immediate medical care, which starts as soon as the ambulance arrives. Emergency medical technicians (EMTs) save previous time by starting care in the ambulance and alerting the hospital to prepare for their arriving. Time is critical in the treatment of a stroke, so call 911 at any sign of stroke.

What happens at the hospital?

Medical professionals will ask about your medical history and the time your symptoms started. Through testing such as a brain scan, the emergency team will determine what type of stroke you had. Depending on the type of stroke, there are different treatments. To learn more about stroke treatment and recovery, visit Mayo Clinic: Stroke Diagnosis & Treatment.

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