The treatment, tissue plasminogen activator (tPA) doesn't work all the time, and more treatments are being researched. Still, the drug has reduced the number of people who leave hospitals with little or no disability.
So, why so few people being treated? It's because, it seems, people don't get in a hurry to get to help with a stroke. And that's just not right. Know the symptoms. And get help F.A.S.T. Check out the story on how a medical team studies when an effective but sometimes risky stroke drug should be used:
The first line treatment for stroke — what the American Heart Association calls the gold standard — is a drug called tissue plasminogen activator, or tPA for short. Given intravenously, tPA dissolves the blood clots in the brain that are responsible for about 87 percent of strokes. Patients who get it three hours or less after their stroke starts are 30 percent more likely to recover with little or no disability. Some patients qualify for tPA even 4 1/2 hours after their symptoms first appear.
The drug has been around since 1996, but even after two decades few patients are getting it.
A key reason is that only 22 to 31 percent of patients arrive at a hospital in time for tPA. People often don’t realize they’re having a stroke and delay calling 911. Indeed, about 20 percent of strokes happen while people are asleep, and there’s no way to determine when the stroke started.
But even when patients arrive at hospitals in time, just 13 percent got tPA last year, according to the American Heart Association.
“People still don’t get urgent medical attention for stroke,” said Ralph Sacco, a past president of the heart association and chief of neurology at Jackson Memorial Hospital in Miami. “There’s a lot of room for improvement.”