A new MRI scanning technique, combined with the latest biotechnology-based blood clot-busting drugs, means the hundreds of thousands of patients that every year suffer a stroke while asleep now have a better chance of making a full recovery. The new scanning technique means that doctors are able to determine when a stroke occurred even in cases when the patient cannot tell them because they were asleep and the symptoms were not spotted until they woke.
NHS budget restrictions mean that only stroke victims for whom it can be determined the stroke has occurred within the last four and a half hours are eligible for treatment that is effective if provided within that timeframe. Until now, a patient not being able to say when a stroke was suffered has often meant they have been denied access to new biotech drugs that effectively target blood clots.
The new screening technique involves one MRI scan to highlight changes in the brain after the stroke, which results from a blood clot cutting of blood supply to a section of the brain. Water the swells into the damaged tissue over a longer period of time. The second MRI scan shows the water in the brain and if changes can be seen from the first scan and not the second, it is likely the stroke took place less than four and a half hours ago. In this scenario, the blood-blot buster drugs are given to the patient.
A recent study conducted at Glasgow University’s Institute of Neuroscience & Psychology showed that 53% of patients given the drugs, compared to 42% given a placebo, had recovered from their stroke completely within three months.
The clots that lead to a stroke result from a wounded blood vessel elsewhere in the body that clotting has occurred in to stop the blood flow by sealing the wound. When small clots grow too large they can sometimes be dislodged into the blood stream as one large piece. Problems occur if these clots then make it into vital organs before sufficiently dissolving and block the blood flow to sections of tissue.
Blood thinning drugs that can help break up blood clots have been around for some time but biotechnology advancements mean they can now much more quickly and effectively target clots, breaking them up. This new speed is vital to the effective treatment of strokes, with recovery success of patients tightly correlated to how long the affected area of the brain is cut off from its blood supply.
The study’s results have been published in the New England Journal of Medicine. Juliet Bouverie, the Stroke Association’s chief executive, was quoted by The Times as commenting:
“These findings could be a game-changer for the thousands of people who have a stroke in their sleep.” She went on to add that the new technique shows “the potential to save thousands of stroke survivors from serious physical and mental disability.”