(COLORADO) — UCHealth hospitals across Colorado have begun treating patients experiencing acute ischemic stroke with a medication that is faster and simpler to administer – “both key during a stroke, when every minute counts.” 

The clot-busting medication, Tenecteplase (TNK), is now being used in place of Alteplase (tPA), which had been the standard for nearly three decades in treating ischemic strokes.

UCHealth is also using the medication in its Mobile Stroke Treatment Unit. 

An ischemic stroke is a medical emergency that occurs when the blood supply to a portion of the brain is blocked. Although both medications break up clots and restore blood flow in the brain, TNK is considerably easier to administer, according to UCHealth.

“TNK is given as a single, immediate IV push that can be administered in just five seconds,” said Dr. Sharon Poisson, a neurohospitalist and medical co-director of the Comprehensive Stroke Program at UCHealth University of Colorado Hospital on the Anschutz Medical Campus. “In stroke care, time is of the essence. The faster we can administer a clot-busting drug to a patient, the better the chances are for a positive outcome.”

Safety was also an important consideration in making the switch to TNK, per Dr. Poisson.

“With tPA, there is greater chance of error because of the complexity of how the drug must be administered,” said Dr. Poisson. “tPA requires an initial injection followed by an hour-long continuous infusion – requiring multiple steps, which leads to more opportunities for delays and errors.”

UCHealth studied several years of data before making the switch to TNK, a genetically modified version of tPA that allows it to be longer-acting, said Dr. Poisson.

“There are several large clinical trials that all show similar findings that TNK is as equally effective as tPA. In addition, studies have shown it may be superior to tPA for large-vessel occlusions,” stated Dr. Poisson.

Strokes are the fifth leading cause of death in the United States, according to the American Stroke Association. It is a major cause of long-term disability, which include the inability to recognize people, immobility and language impairment.

“Treatments like TNK are very effective in an ischemic stroke if administered soon after symptoms begin,” said Dr. Janice Miller, a neurologist and the stroke medical director for UCHealth Memorial Hospital Central, also a Comprehensive Stroke Center. 

According to Dr. Miller, medications to treat ischemic strokes must be given within four-and-a-half hours of the onset of symptoms.

“That’s why it’s so important to call 911 immediately at the first sign of stroke,” stated Dr. Miller. “Unfortunately, too many patients are waiting too long to get help and are thus not eligible for such lifesaving and disability-preventing medications.”

How to recognize signs of a stroke

It is important to know the signs of stroke, as symptoms are often sudden, said UCHealth. Use the letters in “B.E. F.A.S.T.” to recognize a stroke:

  • B = Balance/difficulty standing or walking
  • E = Sudden changes in eyesight, such as loss of vision or double vision
  • F = Facial Drooping
  • A = Arm Weakness
  • S = Speech Difficulty
  • T = Time to call 911

Additional information about stroke prevention can be found on UCHealth’s webpage.