When someone has a stroke, seconds count. Immediate treatment can minimize the long-term effects and even prevent death.
A stroke occurs when a blood vessel in the brain is blocked by a clot or ruptures, preventing the flow of oxygen. The longer you go without oxygen, the greater your chance of brain damage. With each minute that passes, a stroke patient loses approximately 2 million brain cells. After about 10 minutes, the damage can be severe.
Most strokes in the United States are ischemic, or caused by blood clots. Tissue plasminogen activator, or tPA, is a clot-dissolving medication used to treat ischemic strokes. It must be administered to most patients within three to four-and-a-half hours of the onset of symptoms, but that is not the only time constraint involved with the use of this medication.
“A side effect of receiving tPA can be bleeding from the body or the brain,” said Vicki Coppen, stroke program coordinator at UF Health Jacksonville. “It does not happen often, but can be devastating when it does. So, it is imperative for the nurses to do frequent vital sign and neurological checks to catch any side effects early.”
According to The Joint Commission guidelines, patients who receive tPA are required to have their vital signs checked and a neurological assessment performed at specific intervals: every 15 minutes for two hours, every 30 minutes for six hours and hourly for 16 hours.