Ultra-Early Stroke Care Can Start With Paramedics: Study

new article illustration

WEDNESDAY, Feb. 4, 2015 (HealthDay News) -- It's possible for paramedics to deliver immediate drug treatment to stroke patients, a new study suggests.

"This study shows that it is possible to get treatments to stroke patients even before they arrive at a hospital. Because a blocked blood vessel causes brain damage over minutes to hours, this pre-hospital approach to treatment is sure to be adopted and refined in future clinical research studies," said Dr. Walter Koroshetz, acting director of the U.S. National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke.

"Ultra-early brain salvage in stroke patients will someday surely reduce the tremendous burden of disability and death due to stroke," he added in an institute news release.

The study included 1,700 patients suspected of having a stroke who were given the drug magnesium sulfate or a placebo by paramedics within two hours of stroke onset.

The paramedics identified potential stroke patients by using a stroke screening tool developed by the researchers. The paramedics then talked with a neurologist by cellphone to determine if a patient should be included in the study.

The study was actually meant to test the effectiveness of the drug. Previous research in animals suggested that magnesium sulfate might help protect the brain from stroke damage.

The drug proved no better than the placebo at reducing disability after a stroke, but the study did show that paramedics could provide early drug therapy to stroke patients. The researchers found that about 74 percent of the patients received the drug or placebo within 60 minutes of stroke onset.

The study, funded by the National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke, was published Feb. 4 in the New England Journal of Medicine.

"The most important finding of this study was that medication could be delivered within the 'golden hour' of first onset of stroke symptoms when there is the greatest amount of brain to save," said study lead author Dr. Jeffrey Saver in the news release. He is director of the University of California, Los Angeles Comprehensive Stroke Center.

More information

The U.S. National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute has more about stroke.