Still, the low percentage noted in the study falls far short of the percent of people who should be eligible to get tPA, she said. In fact, Kleindorfer believes that up to 29 percent of stroke patients are probably eligible for the clot-buster drug if they get to medical care within the three-hour window.
From the study, Kleindorfer also found that "40 percent of the U.S. population lives in a city with a hospital that does not treat at the national average [of 3 percent]."
Use of the drug may have been higher, she said, if she had studied younger, non-Medicare patients. In younger patients, she said, it's likely they would have fewer problems such as bleeding in the brain that would rule out use of tPA.
Another expert familiar with the study expressed disappointment at the low percent of tPA usage. "It's still unfortunate that the number of hospitals that can provide acute stroke therapy is still limited," said Dr. Ralph Sacco, chairman of the department of neurology at the University of Miami Miller School of Medicine.
The number of hospitals with stroke teams is increasing, he noted. As more hospitals are designated as a primary stroke center by the Joint Commission on Accreditation of Healthcare Organizations, the use of the drug may increase, experts said.
In the meantime, Kleindorfer had some simple, strong advice for family and friends of those suspected of having a stroke: "Call 9-1-1." Getting help quickly is crucial, she said.
Once at the hospital, she said, tell staff right away that you believe your loved one is having a stroke. "Ask, 'Do you have a stroke team?' 'What about that clot-buster medicine?'"
To learn more about tPA, visit the American Stroke Association.
SOURCES: Dawn Kleindorfer, M.D., neurologist a
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