The odds of stroke recovery triple with this groundbreaking procedure


March 1, 2023 | 18:18

For decades, there has been little progress in the treatment of one of the leading causes of death and disability for Americans – stroke.

But that may be about to change with a breakthrough procedure called endovascular thrombectomy.

In the United States, more than 795,000 people have a stroke each year. Consequences of the disease include long-term disability and, for many of those 65 or older, reduced mobility.

Around 87% of strokes are ischemic strokes, which occur when a vessel that carries blood to the brain is blocked.

An endovascular thrombectomy extracts the blood clot through a long catheter with the help of imaging. Once the clot is removed, blood flows back to the brain.

According to the CDC, stroke is a “leading cause of long-term disability.”
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Patients have recovered remarkably well if the procedure is done quickly enough, the New York Times Magazine reported.

For example, a 60-year-old suffering from a severe ischemic stroke who underwent surgery was discharged a few days later – instead of what would have been weeks in the hospital and months of rehabilitation.

In the worst case, the man may have died or faced permanent immobilization and the use of a feeding tube, according to the magazine.

This is what makes endovascular thrombectomy a real advance.

While doctors have long known the causes of stroke and its connection to heart health, treatment was mainly focused on prevention, which included the use of blood thinners and a focus on lifestyle choices.

A step in the right direction occurred when drugs known as “clot-busters” came on the scene in the 1990s, but they were unable to tackle the largest blood clots.

An MRI scan of an 80-year-old patient after a stroke.
Getty Images/Science Photo Library RF

A 2015 clinical trial of the procedure at Foothills Medical Center in Calgary, Canada, was so successful that it was stopped when it was no longer considered ethical to put subjects in the control group.

That trial—along with four others—suggested astonishing outcomes, including that the chances of complete recovery were nearly tripled, according to the magazine.

However, there are challenges. Time is of the essence with the procedure, and it remains to be seen whether a system can be implemented that quickly gets a patient to surgery.

In the United States, access to endovascular thrombectomy within 15 minutes is available to less than a fifth of the population, according to the journal Stroke.

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