Stroke Emergency Treatment

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troke Emergency Treatment
A stroke occurs when the blood supply to the
In the emergency room
University of
brain is interrupted or there is bleeding in the
Special procedures are followed as soon as a
Medical Center
brain. Within minutes, brain cells begin to die.
It is urgent to seek emergency care at the
stroke patient arrives in the emergency room.
The patient gets a physical exam. Then tests
for Patients
first sign of a stroke. Early treatment saves
many lives and reduces the effects of stroke.
are done to learn the cause and the extent of
the stroke. These tests are called diagnostic
(die-ag-NOS-tik) tests.
Stroke warning signs
A CT scan is one of the most important tests.
These are the warning signs that you or
“CT” stands for computed tomography (tuh-
someone you know may be having a stroke:
MOG-ruff-ee). A CT scan is an x-ray that
• numbness, weakness, or paralysis of the
helps detect the kind of stroke the patient has
face, arm, or leg (on one or both sides of
had. The doctor needs to know the type of
the body)
stroke to decide on the best treatment for the
patient. The stroke patient also may have
• vision that suddenly blurs or decreases
blood tests and an EKG (electrocardiogram).
(in one or both eyes)
(More tests may be done over the next few
• trouble speaking or understanding
days to learn the extent and the effects of the
• dizziness, loss of balance, or a fall that is
The patient may have an intravenous (IV)
line inserted. Oxygen also may be given. The
• difficulty swallowing
patient’s blood pressure and body fluid bal-
• sudden, severe, unexplained headache
ance are watched closely. Stroke may lead to
• sudden confusion
increased pressure on the brain. The patient is
watched for confusion, drowsiness, and head-
Learn the warning signs of stroke, and seek
ache, which are early symptoms of increased
emergency care at the first sign of a stroke.
brain pressure. The patient may be given
medicine to prevent or treat this condition.
A stroke can affect the ability to swallow. A
stroke patient is not allowed to take anything
by mouth until it is clear that he or she is able
to swallow.

Emergency drug therapy
Intra-arterial t-PA
A newer method gives t-PA directly where
The most common type of stroke is ischemic
the damage has occurred. This allows lower
(iss-KEY-mik) stroke. This type of stroke
doses of t-PA to be used because the drug is
occurs when a clot blocks a blood vessel in
inserted directly into the affected artery. The
the brain and blood flow is stopped. When a
method is called intra-arterial (IN-truh-ar-
CT scan shows no signs of bleeding, many
University of
TEER-ee-ol) t-PA. The drug is given during
patients with ischemic stroke can safely
a procedure called an arteriogram (ar-TEER-
Medical Center
receive drug therapy.
ee-oh-gram). This procedure takes about
Powerful drugs called “clot busters” can dis-
3 hours. Only staff with special medical train-
for Patients
solve blood clots that caused the stroke. Clot
ing can give t-PA in this way.
buster therapy must begin within 3 hours after
the start of a stroke. This is one reason it’s
Drug research
urgent to get to a hospital emergency room
immediately for stroke symptoms.
Researchers are working to create new drugs
that can slow down or stop brain cells from
T-PA (Activase)
dying after a stroke. In the hours or days after
One of the clot buster drugs is t-PA. It’s short
a stroke, nerve cells near the part of the brain
for tissue plasminogen (plaz-MIN-oh-jin)
where the stroke occurred can still become
activator. The brand name is Activase. T-PA
damaged. It is hoped that new drugs will
helps restore blood flow to the damaged area
protect brain cells that are at risk for stroke
of the brain. For many patients, t-PA can stop
damage that spreads. These drugs would
or lessen brain damage from the stroke.
reduce the disabling effects of a stroke. Newly
There is some risk for bleeding with t-PA.
created drugs are tested by research studies.
A patient receiving t-PA must be monitored
Some of these drug research studies are con-
in the intensive care unit (ICU). The drug is
ducted at UPMC hospitals.
given by an IV line over 1 hour.
For help in finding a doctor or health service that suits your needs, call the UPMC Referral Service
at 412-647-UPMC (8762) or 800-533-UPMC (8762).
Pittsburgh, PA, USA
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© University of Pittsburgh Medical
Center 2003
This information is not intended to be used as a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. You should not rely entirely on this information
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for your health care needs. Ask your own doctor or health care provider any specific medical questions that you have.