What is a Mobile Stroke Treatment Unit?

A mobile stroke treatment unit makes it possible for patients exhibiting stroke symptoms to receive clot-busting drugs within the critical time period. These drugs are known as tPa or intravenous tissue-type plasminogen activator, which can dissolve blood clots that could affect brain cells and brain functions. However, treatment is time-critical for stroke victims, and the mobile treatment units, manned by qualified personnel, deliver the appropriate therapies on site before the patient is transported to the hospital for further evaluation.

How Strokes Affect the Body

Strokes occur when blood clots interfere with the flow of blood to the brain. According to WebMD, a hemorrhagic stroke occurs when brain bleeding is involved. An ischemic stroke occurs when a blood clot disrupts the flow of oxygenated blood to the brain. Brain cells may be permanently damaged when the supply of blood and oxygen is disrupted for at least four minutes.

The body may try to compensate for blood flow disruption by enlarging the arteries in the affected system so that the body parts affected by the damaged cells can become functional. When blood flow is not restored quickly through the introduction of clot-dissolving drugs, brain function may be affected temporarily or permanently. Mild to severe impairment of certain body systems may result, depending on the severity of the clot and the duration of blood and oxygen deprivation. National guidelines for stroke treatment suggests that the critical period is 60 minutes from the onset of symptoms.

Brain damage may lead to physical disabilities, including speech impairment, full or partial paralysis and cognitive issues. These disabilities may be temporary or permanent, depending on factors such as the severity of brain damage and post-stroke rehabilitation support.

What Mobile Stroke Treatment Units Provide

The typical mobile stroke treatment unit looks like an ambulance from the outside. These highly specialized units are equipped with state-of-the-art CT scanners, a blood-testing laboratory along with standard ambulance equipment and supplies. Each unit may be staffed with a neurologist, a critical-care nurse, a CT scan specialist and a paramedic. Some cities may have a hospital-based, on-call neurologist available for real-time consultation through wireless communication channels.

Essentially, the mobile stroke unit brings the hospital to the patient so that treatment can be initiated within 60 minutes from the onset of symptoms. This is the period when treatment with tPa is most effective, leading to better outcomes for stroke patients.

Impact of Mobile Stroke Units

Studies have shown that in a typical stroke event, 2 million brain cells die with every minute of oxygen and blood flow stoppage. Bringing stroke treatments to the patient through a mobile unit cuts down on the waiting time, significantly improving the chances for recovery. Treatment that is initiated within the first 60 minutes will have the greatest impact in terms of clinical recovery and quality of life for stroke survivors. Introduction of thrombolytic drugs may be effective up to four hours after the onset of symptoms although efficacy diminishes the longer it takes to deliver the treatment.

Deployment of a mobile stroke unit saves lives and improves the chances for a full recovery. Data from the Centers for Disease Control indicate that strokes kill 140,000 people every year with the incidence of strokes placed at one every 40 seconds. Given these numbers, investing in a mobile stroke treatment unit should be a top priority, especially in areas where a significant part of the population may be at risk for strokes.