May is Stroke Month. Let’s learn a bit more about what a stroke is and available treatments.
by Karry Morris MSN, RN-BC
Cardiovascular Nurse – Medical Center Hospital Cardiovascular Services
Most strokes are caused by blood clots. It happens much like a heart attack does. A blood clot travels to a small blood vessel and becomes lodged, causing a blockage that results in a loss of blood flow and a lack of oxygen to the vital organ. When a blockage occurs in the heart, it is called a heart attack. When the blockage happens in the brain, it is called a stroke.
If brain tissue loses circulation and oxygen, the parts of the brain dependent on the blood supply of the blocked vessel may die. The death of tissue in the brain, and the resulting stroke, can lead to a lifetime of challenges for the stroke survivor.
Depending on where the stroke occurs, the damage can result in the loss of the ability to walk, talk, eat, think, move or even breathe. Fortunately, there is a medication that can “melt” the clot that is causing the stroke. But you have to call 911 and get to the hospital FAST!
The medication is called “Alteplase” or “Activase” and is a potent medication that essentially “melts” the clot causing the blockage, restoring oxygen-rich blood to the brain. The medication can literally prevent the lifelong effects of stroke … but only if you receive it within the first four and a half hours of stroke symptoms.
Alteplase is in a category of drugs known as “thrombolytics”. Many people know about drugs that they call “blood thinners” (such as Aspirin) that prevent clots from forming in the first place. Alteplase is much more powerful and is able to actually dissolve the clot that has already formed. They are often called “clot-busters” by the medical community.
As parts of the brain begin to die during a stroke, the effected brain tissue becomes more and more fragile over time. About four hours after stroke onset, the dying and dead brain tissue is becoming so fragile, it becomes too late to give the medication. The soft brain tissue, coupled with a strong thrombolytic, put the brain at a greater risk for bleeding at this point. The medication is considered safe and effective, and some tout it as a miracle … but it can only be used in the first four and a half hours. If you don’t arrive to the hospital in time, it may be too late to receive the treatment.
This is why it is so important to be able to recognize stroke and call 911 right away. Waiting any amount of time can make the difference in whether you are able to receive the medication or not. Receiving the medication can result is the reversal of the stroke, avoiding paralysis and even death. If you arrive too late, medical professionals are unable to provide the medication, and can only hope for the best for the stroke survivor.
For many years, there was no cure for stroke. Alteplase, however, can reverse the effects of stroke, allowing you to live your life without the often devastating results of stroke … but only if you get medical attention immediately.
Never ignore the signs of stroke. Time is brain!