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Treating a stroke: why minutes matter

When it comes to stroke, timing is everything. Every minute that a stroke goes untreated, it kills 1.9 million brain cells, causing brain damage that can lead to long-term disability and even death. That's why recognizing the signs of stroke and getting to the hospital fast are critical.

Ischemic strokes — the most common type of stroke — occur when a clot blocks blood flow in one of the arteries feeding the brain. Deprived of oxygen, cells in the affected area begin to die and function is lost in the part of the body controlled by that region of the brain. This can result in paralysis, inability to speak, vision loss or emotional problems.

Fortunately, clot-busting drugs can work miracles if they're administered in time. Known as tissue plasminogen activator (tPA), they dissolve life-threatening blockages and can reverse stroke-related disability. But from the onset of stroke symptoms, there's only about a three-hour window in which these drugs are effective.

Patients who experience a hemorrhagic stroke, caused by a broken artery that bleeds into the brain, require emergency surgery to survive. Lowell General Hospital is designated as a Primary Stroke Services (PSS) hospital by the Massachusetts Department of Public Health (DPH). This means we've met stringent requirements for providing 24/7 emergency diagnosis and treatment for patients presenting with stroke symptoms. In fact, Lowell General received commendation from the DPH for our protocols for treating all types of stroke.

Strokes are treated with the same urgency as a heart attack, and our designated acute stroke team is available at all times.


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