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Byline: Patricia Anstett
Strokes _ often unrecognized and undertreated _ are the major focus of medical research, as experts try to improve outcomes for the 700,000 Americans they affect and often disable each year.
The efforts address a continuing problem: The subtle warning signs of a stroke are so indistinguishable from problems like headache and stomachaches that they often are ignored.
Too many people get to a hospital too late to be helped.
Only 3 percent to 4 percent of Americans get to the hospital in the first three hours of symptoms. Those who do might be treated with a clot-busting drug known as tPA, for tissue plasminogen activator, found in studies to help limit disability after a stroke.
But tPA is used only to treat ischemic strokes, the most common kind caused by blood clots, not the more debilitating hemorrhagic, or bleeding, stroke, which occurs 12 percent of the time.
And about 6 percent of the people who take tPA get worse, a reason hospitals must perform a computerized tomography (CT) scan before administering the drug. The best hospitals are trying to shorten the time it takes to get a CT scan and to administer tPA _ the so-called door-to-needle time.
New drugs, surgical advances and tests to better pinpoint when a stroke has occurred also are on the horizon, experts say.
Old standbys like aspirin, some in a souped-up form called super aspirin, and other seemingly unlikely drugs, including Viagra, are under study to treat strokes and prevent recurrence. Of the 700,000 people annually who have a stroke, 200,000 had one before.
As promising as the …