The understanding of stroke has changed in the recent years from rehabilitation to an emergency approach. We review existing data from symptom recognition to thrombolysis and identify challenges in the different phases of patient treatment.
Implementation of treatment in dedicated stroke units with a multidisciplinary team exclusively treating stroke patients has led to significant reduction of stroke morbidity and mortality. Yet, first the introduction of treatment with intravenous rtPA (IVT) has led to the ‘time is brain’ concept where stroke is conceived as an emergency. As neuronal death in stroke is time dependent, all effort should be laid on immediate symptom recognition, rapid transport to the nearest hospital with a stroke treatment facility and diagnosis and treatment as soon as possible. The main cause of prehospital delay is that patients do not recognize that they suffered a stroke or out of other reasons do not call the Emergeny Medical Services immediately. Educational stroke awareness campaigns may have an impact in increasing the number of patients eligible for rtPA treatment and can decrease the prehospital times if they are directed both to the public and to the medical divisions treating stroke. Stroke transport times can be shortened by the use of helicopter and a stroke mobile – an ambulance equipped with a CT scanner – may be helpful to decrease time from onset to treatment start in the future. Yet, IVT has several limitations such as a narrow time window and a weak effect in ischemic strokes caused by large vessel occlusions. In these cases, interventional procedures and the concept of bridging therapy, a combined approach of IVT and intraarterial thrombolysis or mechanical thrombectomy, might improve recanalization rates and patient outcome.
As neuronal death in stroke patients occurs in a time-dependent fashion, all effort should be made to decrease time from symptom onset to treatment start with rtPA: major challenges are stroke recognition in the public, transport times to hospital and an efficient stroke triage in the hospital.