In the United States, around 795,000 people fall victim to a stroke each year. The vast majority of these (87 percent) are known as “ischemic” strokes. This means that they’re caused by a blockage, usually a clot, that slows or stops blood flow to the brain. A treatment for ischemic stroke, known as tPA, has been hailed as a miracle drug since the FDA approved it in 1996. However, while studies have found that this drug can dramatically reduce brain damage caused by an ischemic stroke, it can be deadly if not given at the right time.
Simply speaking, tPA (short for “tissue plasminogen activator”) is a protein that’s able to dissolve blood clots and restore blood flow to the brain after a stroke. In the United States, this drug is often referred to by its generic name, alteplase. For this medication to be most effective, tPA must be administered before permanent brain damage has occurred, usually within the first few hours after stroke symptoms first appear.
While tPA treatment provides a tremendous benefit when given early, it does not come without risk. Because tPA thins the blood, there is roughly a 3-percent chance (when used correctly) that it may actually cause bleeding in the brain, which can make stroke symptoms worse and can even result in death.
When a stroke occurs, treatment must be given before too much damage has been done. Unfortunately, most stroke victims don’t recognize the signs right away and don’t make it to the hospital early enough for the proper treatment to be given. Studies have shown that only 15-32 percent of patients arrive at a hospital early enough to be eligible for treatment with tPA. Even when patients arrive within the proper time window, the additional time it takes to determine the underlying cause of their symptoms (the current recommendation is 1 hour or less) can sometimes push them outside the recommended treatment time and make them ineligible for treatment tPA.
Currently, the recommended timing of tPA administration is a bit of a gray area. The American Stroke Association recommends that tPA be given within 4.5 hours of symptom onset, but the FDA has only approved tPA to be administered within 3 hours of a stroke.
While it’s been well proven that tPA treatment saves lives, it can do more harm than good if it’s given too late. If tPA is given 4.5 hours or more past when symptoms first appeared, the risk for bleeding, brain injury, and death outweigh any potential benefit. Apart from its ability to cause potentially life-threatening bleeding, tPA is actually toxic to the brain if it leaks out of the blood vessels and into the brain itself. While this risk is small in the early stages of a stroke, the barrier between the blood and the brain becomes weakened as a stroke progresses, and neurotoxicity becomes more of a possibility.
This narrow window for treatment is even more challenging to stay within since many patients cannot pinpoint an exact time that their symptoms started. Because every second counts, a patient or their doctor incorrectly estimating the time of a stroke can mean the difference between life and death.
When a loved one is seriously injured or dies, it’s essential to determine exactly what happened. If they were given tPA, it’s crucial to find out when. Was it given within the recommended 3-hour window? Was it given within the 4.5-hour window? Was it given without any knowledge of when symptoms actually started? Once you know the specifics, a second opinion is essential to determine whether the healthcare provider and/or facility acted reasonably and followed recommended treatment protocols.
Suppose you believe that medical malpractice contributed to the death or severe injury following a stroke. In that case, it’s crucial to find a qualified attorney who can help you get the justice you and your family deserve. A good legal team will be able to get to the bottom of what actually happened over the course of your loved one’s hospital stay.
The legal team at Ross Feller Casey has extensive experience with medical malpractice cases and has delivered record results for the catastrophically injured. We have a dedicated team of leading doctor-lawyers on staff who are ready to put their knowledge and expertise to work for you. We’ve recovered more than $3 billion for our clients, including more than $1 billion in the past five years alone. Many of these cases involved stroke treatments and tPA. There’s no fee unless your case is won, so don’t put it off any longer. Contact us today for a free consultation.
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