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Most Canadians who suffer a stroke wait too long before they seek medical treatment. And when they finally show up at a hospital, their cases aren't always dealt with promptly. Those are the main conclusions of a study by the Canadian Stroke Network, which is composed of university and hospital researchers.

The majority of strokes are caused when a clot blocks blood flow to a particular part of the brain. Deprived of oxygen, brain cells rapidly begin to die. The damage can be reduced with clot-busting drugs. However, the drugs must be given soon after the start of an "ischemic stroke" - preferably within 4½ hours. Hospital staff would have to perform a brain scan on the patient and would need the expertise to interpret the results. Giving clot-busting drugs to patients suffering brain bleeds - or so-called "hemorrhagic strokes" - would make them worse, noted Moira Kapral of the University of Toronto.

The researchers reviewed data on more that 38,000 stroke patients at 295 hospital across Canada. They found that two-thirds of stroke patients didn't arrive at a hospital in time to receive the best possible care, and that only 8 per cent of patients admitted to hospitals for strokes receive the clot-busting drugs.

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