Harvard Heart Letter

Stroke: Every minute counts

When stroke strikes, every minute's delay of treatment counts. A huge new study now shows the exact benefit of early treatment.

Ischemic stroke occurs when a clot blocks blood flow to the brain. Two million brain cells die every minute until blood flow is restored. Infusion of the clot-busting drug known as tPA (tissue-type plasminogen activator) can restore blood flow to the brain. However, tPA must be infused in a hospital, as quickly as possible, and no later than 4.5 hours after the stroke.

Early treatment is known to be better, but how much better? Now we know, thanks to a study of over 58,000 patients treated with tPA in some 14,000 U.S. hospitals. Dr. Jeffrey L. Saver of UCLA and his co-authors, including Dr. Lee H. Schwamm of Harvard-affiliated Massachusetts General Hospital, reported the findings in The Journal of the American Medical Association.

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