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Health A-Z

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Harvard Medical School

Treatment

The most effective treatment for ischemic stroke is a clot-busting drug, such as tissue plasminogen activator (t-PA). The drug must be given within several hours after stroke symptoms begin. For this reason, it is important to seek emergency treatment immediately if you have symptoms of a stroke. Do not wait to see if the symptoms go away on their own.

Clot-busters are administered through an intravenous line (IV) into a vein. This medicine can dissolve clots and restore blood flow in the brain. On average, patients who receive this medication have less long-term disability following a stroke.

Later, another type of medication, such as heparin, is given. Heparin prevents existing blood clots from getting bigger. And it prevents new clots from forming.

Longer term, treatment depends upon whether the stroke was thrombotic or embolic. For a thrombotic stroke, doctors prescribe an anti-platelet agent. These include:

  • Aspirin

  • Clopidogrel (Plavix)

  • Aspirin combined with dipyridamole (Aggrenox)

For an embolic stroke caused by a clot that formed in the heart and travelled to the brain, doctors usually prescribe warfarin (Coumadin).

A person who has had a significant stroke should be hospitalized so he or she can be observed in case symptoms get worse. A person who has had a severe stroke may need a mechanical ventilator to help with breathing. A stroke patient also may need help with self-care or feeding.

In the hospital, a person who has had a stroke can meet with occupational and physical therapists. These therapists can help the person learn to work around a new disability and to regain strength. Often, a person will move from the hospital to a rehabilitation center to get intensive therapy before returning home.

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From Health A-Z, Harvard Health Publications. Copyright 2007 by the President and Fellows of Harvard College. All rights reserved. Written permission is required to reproduce, in any manner, in whole or in part, the material contained herein. To make a reprint request, contact Harvard Health Publications. Used with permission of StayWell.

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