Ischemic stroke occurs after an abrupt reduction in cerebral blood flow, usually related to thrombosis of an intracranial or extracranial artery. The presenting symptoms and signs of stroke vary greatly, depending on the region of the brain involved. Most individuals are unaware of the warning signs or symptoms of stroke and do not seek medical care immediately after stroke onset. Recently, thrombolytic therapy with intravenous tissue plasminogen activator (t-PA) has been shown to be effective for treatment of selected stroke patients if administered <3 hours after stroke onset. This therapy is now approved for stroke treatment, but relatively few stroke patients currently receive t-PA. Neuroprotective agents that improve the intrinsic ability of brain parenchyma to withstand ischemia are currently undergoing intensive clinical evaluation. Their development has been facilitated by significant scientific advances in the understanding of the pathophysiology of acute ischemic neuronal injury. Strategies aimed at interfering with these fundamental processes of ischemic neuronal injury have shown encouraging results in several preliminary clinical trials. However, these agents probably must also be administered within a few hours of stroke onset to be beneficial. Eventually, combined neuroprotective and thrombolytic therapy will likely be used for acute stroke treatment. This strategy's success will depend on increased public and professional education efforts dealing with stroke recognition, evaluation, and treatment.
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