When it comes to stroke, neurologists are fond of reminding us that "time equals brain." What they mean is that, if you are experiencing any of the warning signs of stroke, the faster you get to the hospital, the more often physicians can take measures that limit the brain damage and long-term disability that stroke can cause.
But apparently, Americans are not getting that message -- and it may be costing us brain cells we can ill afford to lose. A "Research Letter" reported in the Journal of the American Medical Assn. this week reveals that in 2008, virtually no more Americans suffering the first signs of a stroke called 911 for ambulance transport than was the case in 1997. That's despite active campaigns to get Americans to call 911 immediately if they suspect they or a loved one is having a stroke.
At last count, just over half -- 51% -- of patients determined to be having a stroke arrived for emergency medical care in an ambulance, wrote researchers from Weill Medical College in New York and UC San Francisco. In 1997, 49% did.
The effort to get stroke victims to call 911 and get help immediately took on special urgency in 1997, when a promising new clot-busting medication called tissue plasminogen activator, or tPA, was approved by the FDA to reduce the duration, intensity and damage of an ischemic stroke, in which a breakaway clot blocks or reduces blood flow to the brain. Physicians were taught that tPA would be effective only if used within the first three hours of the onset of a stroke, and that using it after that window had closed increased the risk of bleeding in the brain.