Three long-awaited studies have shown that mechanically removing a blood clot from a stroke patient's brain is no more useful than the older treatment of giving an IV dose of a clot-dissolving drug to the whole body.
The results of the clinical trials, presented this week at a meeting in Hawaii, shocked and surprised stroke physicians. Many had already adopted the more aggressive strategy over the past decade.
"For the stroke field this is a really big deal," Walter Koroshetz, deputy director of the National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke, said of the findings, which were presented over three days at the International Stroke Conference in Honolulu.
Practitioners hoped that "endovascular treatment," in which a catheter is threaded into a blocked artery and the clot is pulled out, would do for stroke patients what it has done for heart attack patients. In them, going after clots with angioplasty balloons and stents is clearly more effective than giving clot-dissolving drugs through a vein in the arm.
"We did this study with the strong expectation that we would find a positive benefit. We were surprised," said Joseph Broderick of the University of Cincinnati Neuroscience Institute, who headed one of the studies.
Stroke is the fourth-leading cause of death in the United States. About 800,000 people suffer a stroke each year, and about 130,000 die.