Arrival method, slow response often delay stroke care

August 8, 2008

Most stroke patients can't recall when their symptoms started or do not arrive at the hospital in a timely manner, so they cannot be considered for time-dependent therapies such as the clot-busting drug tissue plasminogen activator (tPA), researchers reported in Stroke: Journal of the American Heart Association.

"tPA has been demonstrated to reduce disability from ischemic (clot-caused), stroke, however, the drug is only currently approved for use within three hours of symptom onset," said Kathryn M. Rose, Ph.D., lead author of the study and research associate professor in the Department of Epidemiology at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. "It is important for people to recognize the symptoms of stroke and promptly call 9-1-1 (Emergency Medical Services) when they occur."

Researchers analyzed data on 15,117 patients from 46 hospitals enrolled in the North Carolina Stroke Registry (NCCSR) from January 2005 to April 2008. The majority were ages 45 or older; 54 percent were women; 53 percent of patients arrived by Emergency Medical Service (EMS); and 38 percent received care at hospitals designated as stroke centers.

The most common stroke presumptive diagnoses at admission were:

-- blood-clot-related or ischemic stroke — 43 percent,
-- transient ischemic attack or TIA — 28 percent,
-- bleeding (hemorrhagic stroke) — 9 percent, and
-- unspecified type of stroke — 20 percent.

Only 23 percent of all NCCSR patients arrived at the hospital within two hours of symptom onset and were thus suitable for evaluation to receive tPA. Current National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke (NINDS) guidelines recommend that a patient receive a computer tomography (CT) scan within 25 minutes of hospital arrival.

In an analysis of 3,549 patients who arrived at the hospital within two hours of symptoms onset, only 23.6 percent received a CT scan within 25 minutes. Among this group, researchers found that those who arrived by ambulance were more than twice as likely to receive a timely CT scan than were those who "walked in" on their own.

Patients receiving care at a Primary Stroke Center were also more likely to receive a timely scan than those treated at other hospitals as were men compared to women. Neither race, health insurance status, time of day nor weekday versus weekend arrival affected how quickly a CT scan was given.

"Although patients arriving at the hospital within two hours of symptom onset were significantly more likely to receive a timely CT scan than those who did not (24 percent vs. 9 percent), most (76 percent), did not," Rose said. "This points to areas where stroke systems of care can be improved in hospitals. Improvements could increase patients' access to time-dependent therapies and potentially reduce disability from stroke."

Source: American Heart Association

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