Neurological emergencies: acute stroke

Author(s): Davenport R, Dennis M

Abstract

Stroke causes a vast amount of death and disability throughout the world, yet for many healthcare professionals it remains an area of therapeutic nihilism, and thus uninteresting. This negative perception is shared by the general public, who often have a poor understanding of the early symptoms and significance of a stroke. Yet within the past few years there have been many important developments in the approach to caring for stroke patients, for both the acute management and secondary prevention. After the completion of numerous clinical trials, there is now robust evidence to either support or discredit various interventions. Even more exciting is the prospect of yet more data becoming available in the near future, testing a whole array of treatments, as clinical interest in stroke expands exponentially. In this review an evidence based approach to the management of acute stroke within the first few days is presented, including ischaemic and haemorrhagic events, but not subarachnoid haemorrhage. It is explained why stroke is regarded as a medical emergency, and the importance of a rational, methodic approach to the initial assessment, which is the key to accurate diagnosis and subsequent management, is emphasised. The potential early problems associated with stroke are identified and specific interventions for different stroke types are discussed. The review ends with a brief discussion of the implications that the evolving treatments have for the organisation of modern stroke services.

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