Why must a stroke be treated immediately?

Immediate treatment for a stroke is critical because brain cells die when they no longer receive oxygen and nutrients from the blood; further, they also are damaged by sudden bleeding into or around the brain. When blood flow to the brain is interrupted, some brain cells die immediately, while others remain at risk for dying.

If you experience the sudden onset of the worst headache in your life or a sudden onset of neurological symptoms, call 911 and get to a hospital immediately. Do not waste precious time by calling your healthcare professional and do not call a family member. This has been shown to cause unnecessary delays in treatment. The best action is to call 911.

The most effective therapies must be administered fast -- typically within three hours of when the stroke first started. Although some healthcare professionals suggest taking aspirin at the onset of a heart attack, it may not be the best home remedy for a stroke. Don't take aspirin in a stroke situation without advice of a healthcare professional.

A stroke occurs when the brain is suddenly deprived of blood and oxygen. With each passing minute, brain tissue dies. When brain tissue dies, disability and even death can occur.

Immediate medical care can stop stroke caused by a blockage in a blood vessel in the brain. Clot-busting drugs can be administered to open blockages, and treatments similar to those doctors use to open blocked arteries during a heart attack (balloon procedures and stents) can treat blockages in the brain to quickly restore blood flow and reduce the chance of disability or death. Additionally, if your stroke is caused by a bleeding, rather than blocked, blood vessel, doctors can work to stop the bleeding.

If too much time passes, unfortunately nothing can help.

It cannot be said too often: Call 911 immediately at the first sign of stroke.

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Important: This content reflects information from various individuals and organizations and may offer alternative or opposing points of view. It should not be used for medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. As always, you should consult with your healthcare provider about your specific health needs.