Treatment of Acute Stroke

Acute Stroke Warning Signs — When to Call 911

  • Sudden numbness or weakness in the face, arm or leg, especially on one side of the body
  • Sudden confusion, trouble speaking or trouble understanding
  • Sudden trouble seeing in one or both eyes
  • Sudden trouble walking, dizziness, or loss of balance or coordination
  • Sudden severe headache with no known cause

Stroke is the third leading cause of death and the primary cause of adult disability in the United States, affecting approximately 700,000 patients annually. The leading cause of stroke is blockage of the arteries supplying the brain, resulting in inadequate supply of oxygen and nutrients. This, in turn, causes damage and death to the brain cells, which is called cerebral infarction. These blockages usually result from a blood clot forming in the heart that breaks off and becomes lodged in a blood vessel in the brain, typically the internal carotid artery, middle cerebral artery, or basilar artery.

The effects of inadequate blood supply to the brain may be reversible within the first few hours, but are thought to result in permanent damage after six to eight hours. Presently, stroke therapy focuses on dissolving or removing the clot as quickly as possible to prevent permanent neurological damage. Methods include the administration of medications in the vein or directly into the blocked artery designed to dissolve the clot. This is called thrombolysis and involves the use of a drug called t-PA (tissue plasminogen activator). Other methods involve physically removing the clot using a catheter placed in the groin to restore blood flow to the brain. At Emory, we are presently involved in collaborative research with the Neurology and Neurosurgery Departments utilizing both types of emergency stroke treatment.

The key factor in treatment of stroke is the prompt recognition of symptoms and rapid access to medical care. Because the effects of stroke cannot be reversed after only a few hours, it is very important to seek medical attention immediately.

See an Example of Emergency Stroke Therapy

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