Every 15-minute delay in delivering a clot-busting drug after stroke robs survivors of about a month of disability-free life, according to a new study.

In addition, each minute faster the drug is given means nearly two more days of healthy life for survivors, researchers said.

The sooner the clot-busting drug tissue plasminogen activator  is given to treat ischemic stroke, the better. It’s recommended within 41/2  hours after the start of stroke symptoms.

“Speedy restoration of blood flow to the brain is crucial for brain cell survival everywhere,” said Atte Meretoja, M.D., Ph.D., M.Sc., lead author of the study and associate professor of neurology at the University of Melbourne in Australia. “In this study, we wanted to quantify the importance of speed in the hope that concrete, easy-to-relate-to figures will inspire medical services to measure and improve their game for the benefit of our stroke patients.”

The world’s fastest stroke services in Helsinki, Finland, and Melbourne, Australia, take an average 20 minutes from hospital arrival to start of treatment, Meretoja said. Most American, Australian and European centers take 70-80 minutes.

He and his colleagues applied the results from combined major clot-busting trials to 2,258 consecutive stroke patients from Australia and Finland to calculate how patients would have been affected had they been treated faster or slower.

They found:

  • For every minute the treatment could be delivered faster, patients gained an average 1.8 days of extra healthy life.
  • Although all patients benefitted from faster treatment, younger patients with longer life expectancies gained a little more than older patients.

“Patients should never wait a single minute for stroke signs, such as face droop, arm weakness or speech disturbance, to go away. They should call for help immediately,” Meretoja said.  “Additionally, most emergency medical services and hospitals have the ability to reduce response and treatment delays significantly, and we have described how to do this.”

The study’s findings can be applied to the U.S. population, he said.

The study appeared in the American Heart Association journal Stroke.

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