When it comes to getting treatment for stroke, every minute counts. This is the conclusion of a study published in the American Heart Association's journal Stroke, which shows that for every minute treatment is accelerated, the patient gains another 1.8 days of healthy life.
Stroke is the number four cause of death in the US. A disease affecting the arteries leading to the brain, it occurs when a blood vessel carrying oxygen and nutrients to the brain is blocked by a clot or bursts.
When this happens, part of the brain is unable to get the blood and oxygen it needs, prompting brain cells to die. This is why immediate treatment is so vital; restoring oxygen to the brain as quickly as possible means less damage is done.
The researchers from this latest study, led by Dr. Atte Meretoia of the University of Melbourne in Australia, say that though they found all stroke patients benefit from faster treatment following a stroke, younger patients gain even more benefit than older patients.
They note that tissue plasminogen activator (tPA), the clot-busting drug used to treat ischemic stroke, should be administered within 4.5 hours of onset of symptoms, but the sooner it is given, the better the outcome.
"Clot-busting treatment works equally well, irrespective of race, ethnicity or gender," says Dr. Meretoia. "Speedy restoration of blood flow to the brain is crucial for brain survival everywhere."
Every minute of faster treatment equals 1.8 days of healthy life
Researchers say every minute counts when it comes to getting treatment for stroke.
Worldwide, the fastest stroke services are located in Helsinki, Finland and Melbourne, Australia, the researchers note. There, the time from hospital arrival to start of treatment takes an average of 20 minutes.
In most American, Australian and European centers, however, this takes an average of 70-80 minutes.
To determine just how important speed is when it comes to stroke treatment, Dr. Meretoia and colleagues used data from all of the major clot-busting trials reported to date, and then they applied those findings to 2,258 stroke patients in Australia and Finland to calculate what patient outcomes would have been, had they been treated faster or slower.
For every minute the treatment could have been delivered faster, the team found that patients would have gained an average of 1.8 days of extra disability-free life, while every 15-minute delay resulted in a loss of 1 month of healthy life.
Additionally, they found that younger patients gained slightly more than older patients from faster treatment, and women gained slightly more than men over their longer lifetimes.
Dr. Meretoia says their findings are generalizable to the US population and adds:
"In stroke treatment, every minute saved gives patients days of healthy life. Patients should never wait a single minute for stroke signs, such as face droop, arm weakness or speech disturbance, to go away. They should call for help immediately. Additionally, most emergency medical services and hospitals have the ability to reduce response and treatment delays significantly, and we have described how to do this."
Recognize the signs of stroke and think FAST
The American Stroke Association have developed an easy way to remember the sudden symptoms of stroke with their FAST campaign:
Fast facts about stroke
- On average, a stroke occurs every 40 seconds in the US.
- Every 4 minutes, someone dies of stroke.
- Around 40% of stroke deaths occur in males, 60% in females.
- F - Face drooping - If one side of the face droops or is numb. If you ask the person to smile, is the smile is uneven?
- A - Arm weakness - If one arm is weak or numb, or if when the person raises both arms, does one arm drift downward?
- S - Speech difficulty - If speech is slurred or the person is unable to speak clearly. Do they repeat the following sentence correctly: "The sky is blue."
- T - Time to call 911 - If any of these symptoms are present, even if they go away, you should call the emergency number and go the hospital right away.
"'Save a minute; save a day' is the message from our study, which examined how even small reductions in treatment delays might benefit patients measurably in the long run," says Dr. Meretoia.
The team concludes that realistically small reductions in treatment delays "would result in significant and robust average health benefits over patients' lifetimes." They say awareness of the importance of this issue "could promote practice change."
Medical News Today recently reported on a study that suggested patients with even slightly high blood pressure are at increased risk of stroke.