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Heart Health and Stroke

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What to expect at the hospital

woman having an MRI

You've had a sudden onset of numbness and paralysis or other symptoms of stroke, and you or a companion have called 911. Now what? What happens when you get to the hospital?

Once you get to the hospital, these things will happen quickly:

  • A doctor or nurse will ask you or your companion about your symptoms and when they began.
  • You'll be asked to do several physical and mental tasks. This helps identify the parts of your brain that might be affected by the stroke.
  • You will be given several other tests to rule out other causes of your symptoms.

What happens if the doctor decides I've had a stroke?

The next step will be to use one or more brain imaging tests to see where the stroke is located. The two main methods are computed tomography (tuh-MOG-ruh-fee) (CT) scan and magnetic resonance imaging (MRI).

How will my stroke be treated?

This depends upon the type of stroke you have had and how quickly you receive medical care.

If you have the most common type of stroke (ischemic), you might get a clot-busting drug called t-PA. It is injected into one of your veins. This drug travels in the blood to your brain and breaks up the clot. To work properly and safely, t-PA must be given within three hours from the time your stroke started. In fact the sooner t-PA is given, the better it works.

A new therapy for ischemic strokes is the Mechanical Embolus Removal for Cerebral Ischemia (MERCI) system. A thin wire is guided into the blood vessels and to the blocked artery in the brain. The doctors use the wire to pull the clot out. The MERCI system can be used for up to eight hours after stroke onset.

If you've had the kind of stroke that involves bleeding into the brain, there are fewer treatment options. Usually, little can be done to stop the bleeding. But treatment usually involves trying to reduce pressure with drugs or surgery.

Once your condition is stable, your doctor will talk to you about next steps. This might involve therapy, such as physical therapy or speech therapy, medicines, or surgery.

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Content last updated: February 01, 2009.

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