THURSDAY, June 2 (HealthDay News) -- Use of a life-saving clot-busting drug to treat ischemic strokes nearly doubled from 2005 through 2009, but the rates still remain too low, a new study finds.
Acute ischemic stroke occurs when a blood clot cuts off blood supply to the brain. Tissue plasminogen activator (tPA) is the only thrombolytic (clot-dissolving) drug approved to treat this type of stroke in the United States, and it can stave off death and lasting disability, but only if it is administered within 3 to 4.5 hours of stroke onset.
"Overall, tPA treatment rates are improving, but the proportion of ischemic stroke patients receiving the therapy remains very small," said study author Dr. Opeolu Adeoye, an assistant professor of emergency medicine and neurosurgery at the University of Cincinnati in Ohio. "The delayed hospital arrival in the majority of stroke patients is probably the most important factor contributing to low treatment rates."
The findings are published June 2 in the journal Stroke.
In the study, researchers used Medicare records and pharmacy billing codes to see if tPA use had increased in response to measures aimed at improving access to this treatment.
In 2005, 1.1 percent to 1.4 percent of acute ischemic stroke patients received a thrombolytic drug, and 3.4 percent to 3.7 percent received one in 2009.
But after adjusting the numbers to account for billing or coding errors, the researchers found that as many as 5.2 percent -- or about 36,000 of the 700,000 Americans who had an ischemic stroke in 2009 -- received tPA. The study did not track individuals after hospital discharge, so it does not provide any data on how they fared following treatment. The presumption is that the tPA did preserve function and prevent lasting stroke-related disability.
"Increasing public awareness of stroke signs and symptoms, and earlier hos
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