When someone is having a stroke, time is of the essence.

“Immediate medical attention is crucial for someone having a stroke – it can minimize long-term effects and prevent death,” said Clemens Schirmer, M.D., Ph.D., director of cerebrovascular and endovascular neurosurgery, Geisinger Health System.

The majority of strokes – about 85 percent – are ischemic strokes, which means a blood vessel or artery in the brain is blocked by a blood clot.

“During a stroke, normal blood flow to the brain is interrupted, which causes brain cells to die due to lack of oxygen and nutrients they need to function,” Dr. Schirmer said. “The longer the blood flow to the brain is cut off, the greater the damage. In this instance we believe that time equals brain cells.”

Although there is still a race against the clock when it comes to treatment, a new treatment is providing hope for severe ischemic stroke patients and their loved ones. They may potentially see shortened recovery times and a significantly improved chance of regaining independence thanks to endovascular therapy.

“Endovascular therapy for stroke treatment involves specialists that are experts in removing the blood clot causing the stroke by sending a catheter to the site of the blockage in the brain,” said Dr. Schirmer. “The catheter is outfitted with a device that grabs the clot and allows us to restore blood flow beyond the site of the blockage.”

While the doctor threads the catheter containing the clot out of the body, the artery is cleared, allowing blood flow back into the brain and replenishing its supply of oxygen and nutrients.

“Prior to endovascular therapy, stroke patients relied on a drug called tissue plasminogen activator (tPA), which was the standard care for more than 20 years,” Dr. Schirmer said. “In some cases an injection of tPA dissolves the stroke-causing blood clot and improves blood flow to the brain.”

If tPA is administered within three hours and up to four-and-a-half hours, it can improve the chances of recovering from a stroke. Researchers found that more than 90 percent of patients treated with both tPA and endovascular therapy who had blood flow restored within two and a half hours of stroke onset had minimal to no disability.

Nearly 800,000 people suffer a stroke in the U.S. every year. It’s the leading cause of adult disability and the fifth highest cause of death, according to the American Heart Association.

“The key ingredient in successfully treating any stroke is time,” Dr. Schirmer said. “If you suspect someone is experiencing stroke symptoms, call 911 immediately.”

The most common signs of a stroke are a facial droop, numbness, weakness, slurred speech, loss of balance and blurry vision, especially on one side.