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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 a drug that can stop a stroke caused by a blood clot by breaking up the clot. 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 must be given within three hours of the onset of symptoms. Health Canada has approved tPA to be used within three hours from the time symptoms begin. However, emerging science is now showing that tPA could be effective up to 4 ½ hours afterward. As a result, the Canadian Stroke Strategy has issued new Canadian Best Practices Recommendations for Stroke Care, which have included this new treatment time. However, it will be up to the attending emergency doctors to determine when tPA may be administered or if it is appropriate to the situation.

In some cases, tPA cannot be used and other drugs 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).



Last reviewed: January 2009.