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CT Brain Scans Optimize Stroke Treatment

High-tech imaging pinpoints those areas in danger

THURSDAY, April 21, 2005 (HealthDay News) -- Special brain scans using computed tomography (CT) perfusion imaging may improve outcomes for stroke patients by helping doctors better identify patients who would benefit from clot-busting drugs or clot-retrieval devices, a new study finds.

Under current guidelines, the powerful clot-busting drug tPA has to be given to patients within three hours of stroke onset. After six hours, it's considered too dangerous to even give stroke patients interarterial clot-busting drugs, due to the risk of potentially fatal hemorrhage.

However, CT perfusion allows doctors to pinpoint which areas of a stroke patient's brain are dead and which areas are dying -- but might still be saved. Once the ratio of dead-to-dying brain is determined, doctors can decide on the best course of treatment.

In the study of 372 stroke patients who had CT perfusion for stroke over a three-year period, the imaging enabled doctors to customize stroke treatments based on the degree of patient brain death, instead of making treatment decisions based on how much time had elapsed since the onset of stroke symptoms.

Researchers at the West Virginia University School of Medicine and Hospitals found that the information provided by CT perfusion imaging saved more stroke patients' lives and minimized debilitating side effects, compared to relying on arbitrary time windows of three or six hours. These time restrictions result in the exclusion of some stroke patients who might still benefit from treatment, the researchers said, or the unwarranted inclusion of other stroke patients who may suffer serious complications from treatment.

Stroke is the third leading cause of death among Americans. According to the American Stroke Association, 700,000 people each year experience a stroke.

The findings were presented Wednesday at the annual meeting of the American Association of Neurological Surgeons, in New Orleans.

More information

The National Stroke Association has more about stroke symptoms and treatment.

SOURCE: Widmeyer Communications, news release, April 20, 2005
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