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Study: Blood Clot Extraction Improves Outcomes for Stroke Patients

FILE - Stephen Harkavy participates in therapy to help him recover from a stroke at the Burke Rehabilitation Center in White Plains, N.Y., November 2014.

New research suggests that removing blood clots from the brain following strokes dramatically improves a patient's recovery.

In a study of 500 Dutch stroke patients published in the New England Journal of Medicine, researchers compared the outcomes of those who had clots removed and received the usual clot-busting drugs to those who received only the drugs. The researchers looked at the patients' "functional independence," or the ability to take care of themselves.

Ninety days after their strokes, more than 32 percent of patients who had clots removed from a blocked brain artery were functioning independently again, compared with 19 percent of patients who received only clot-dissolving drugs.

The study looked at intervention in the most common form of stroke, caused by a blockage in the large forward arteries in the brain. These patients account for the majority of people who become disabled or die because of stroke.

All of the patients in the study who had clot removal surgery were operated on within six hours of being stricken. Experts say getting to the hospital as quickly as possible after the appearance of stroke symptoms — which include slurred speech, numbness and drooping face — is critical for survival and recovery.

While nine out of 10 of patients were initially treated with the clot-busting drug tPA, it is reportedly effective in opening up blocked arteries in only one-third of cases.