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Stroke treatments

In the last few years, important new advances have been made in stroke treatment.  However,  these new treatments must be started within a few hours of the onset of symptoms in order to be effective. That's why it's so important to recognize the warning signs of a stroke as soon as they appear and call 9-1-1 or your local emergency number for immediate medical assistance.

There are three main emergency treatments for stroke: tPA, surgery and non-surgical procedures. The treatment you receive will depend on the type of stroke you have, how serious your stroke was, your age and general health, and how soon you arrive at the hospital. Whatever treatment you receive, remember that making healthy lifestyle choices to change your risk factors for stroke is an important part of your treatment and recovery.

tPA (tissue plasminogen activator)

Thrombolytic drugs such as tPA are often called clot busters. tPA is short for tissue plasminogen activator and can only be given to patients who are having a stroke caused by a blood clot (ischemic stroke). It can stop a stroke by breaking up the blood clot. It must be given as soon as possible and within 4½ hours after stroke symptoms start.* Receiving tPA can reduce the severity of a stroke and reverse some of the effects, helping you recover more quickly.

In some cases, tPA cannot be used and other treatments are required.

Surgery

In some cases, surgery may be required to repair damage after a stroke or to prevent a stroke from occurring. Surgery may be performed to remove blood that has pooled in the brain after a hemorrhagic stroke, to repair broken blood vessels, or to remove plaque from inside the carotid artery.

Non-surgical procedures

Some people may benefit from treatments that are performed through a thin, flexible tube called a catheter into the blood vessels or the brain. Many of these procedures are new and experimental and not all hospitals may be able to do them. Catheter-based procedures are being developed to remove plaque buildup from arteries and to treat aneurysms (weak spots in the wall of a blood vessel that can bulge outward and rupture).

* In 1999, Health Canada approved the clot-busting drug called tPA to be used within 3 hours from the time stroke symptoms begin. Since that time, considerable evidence shows that tPA could be effective up to 4½ hours from the time symptoms begin. As a result, the Heart and Stroke Foundation has issued updated Canadian Stroke Best Practices Recommendations to include this longer possible treatment time. It will be up to the attending doctors to determine when tPA may be administered and if it is appropriate.



Last modified: June 2014
Last reviewed: January 2009.