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Stroke Wake-Up Call: January 25, 2014

“I was asleep at the time and was not aware than anything had happened,” says Frank Sullivan.

He couldn’t pinpoint what it was, or when it happened. But Sullivan knew something went terribly wrong during the night.

“I couldn’t walk, I could not feel anything on my right side,” says Sullivan.

Researchers estimate about 58,000 people a year in the US go to the ER with a wake-up stroke. They’re called “wake-up strokes”.

“As soon as they wake up, they realize they can’t move on one side and it turns out that at some time during sleep they had a stroke,” says Dr. Nima Mowzoon, neurologist on Lee Memorial Health System’s medical staff.

These wake-up strokes present a problem: clot-busters must be given within a window of opportunity, and if no one knows when the stroke occurred, it may exclude someone from this option.

“They seemed to be last normal at 10 o clock at night and they wake up at 7 and they’ve had the stroke - so that essentially brings the patient out of the 4 1/2 hour time window and so we wouldn’t be able to give that patient IV thrombolitics,” says Dr. Mowzoon.

“Since I was asleep they couldn’t tell when it happened. Could’ve been three hours, could’ve been three minutes, nobody knows,” says Sullivan.

New studies may provide help. Using an MRI to act as a ‘surrogate clock’, researchers are trying to pinpoint stroke onset, which may be allow some people to get brain saving clot busters.

“We might be able to use our technology to identify which part of the brain is at risk of impending stroke and how much stroke that patient has already had and there may be certain patients in that category that still can benefit from the additional treatment,” says Dr. Mowzoon.

Timing is everything, if you suspect someone has suffered a wake-up stroke. Call 911 immediately, because the clock is running.