BERLIN, Aug. 25 (UPI) -- It's well known that the sooner stroke is treated, the better patients fare and the less likely they are to have a disability after recovery.
Researchers at Charité-University Medicine Berlin found patients who started thrombolysis while in transit to the hospital had fewer severe disabilities and better chance of survival, suggesting mobile stroke units could save a considerable number of lives.
Roughly 90 percent of strokes are ischemic, or caused by a blood clot in an artery in the brain, while the other 10 percent are hemorraghic, or caused by bleeding on the brain.
When treating a stroke, doctors use computed tomography scanning to confirm the type of stroke a patient has before starting treatment, because thrombolysis -- drugs given to break up blood clots -- would make a hemorraghic stroke worse.
To test whether earlier treatment of ischemic stroke patients could improve outcomes, the researchers designed a specialized stroke ambulance with a CT scanner, mini-laboratory and ability to deliver thrombolysis.
For the study, published in the journal The Lancet Neurology, the researchers compared 427 patients picked up in a Stroke Emergency Mobile, or STEMO, to 505 brought to a hospital in a traditional ambulance receiving conventional care.
Patients were assessed 3 months after stroke using the modified Rankin Scale a standard method for measuring disability and dependence in people who have had a stroke. Outcomes were assessed based on the proportion of patients who were living at home without assistance before their stroke and had a three-month modified Rankin Scale score of 1 or lower on a scale of 0 to 6, indicating no significant disability.
Among the patients, 53 percent of those in the STEMO group and 47 percent of those receiving conventional care had a score of less than 1, a small but statistically insignificant difference in outcome regardless of pre-hospital arrival treatment.
Even without a significant difference, and with larger trials planned for the future, the researchers say the data suggests there is a benefit to faster, earlier treatment, which echoes previous studies on stroke patients.
"The earlier acute stroke treatment starts, the better the outcomes," Dr. Alexander Kunz, a researcher in the Department of Neurology at Charité-University Medicine Berlin, said in a press release. "Data from our study suggest that, wherever possible, treatment should commence prior to arrival at hospital."