Stroke is a terrifying and all-too-common event that no one seems much concerned about until it happens. The third leading cause of death after heart attack and all cancers combined, it is lethal in nearly 3 in 10 cases. But for many more, stroke is a crippling disease. It destroys brains and paralyzes bodies. It robs people of the ability to walk, talk, feed themselves and conduct the activities of daily life.
The great majority of strokes – more than 8 in 10 are due to blocked or clogged blood vessels that starve brain tissue, which then deteriorates and dies. Most patients with such strokes would benefit from the “clot-busting” medicine know as tissue plasminogen activator, tPA. tPA is the only FDA approved clot-busing drug to treat strokes and has been around since 1996. If given in a timely manner this drug can prevent or substantially reduce the wide variety of cognitive and physical deficits that stroke inflicts. tPA is not for everyone and only about half the patients treated with tPA in several major studies made great recovery at 3 months; but that’s still much better than the alternative.