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A mobile stroke unit is an ambulance specially designed to provide immediate care for patients who might be having a stroke. Stroke experts on the mobile stroke unit evaluate and treat patients right where they are, before ever getting to the hospital. The mobile stroke unit combines the expertise of Emergency Department staff and the fast response of an ambulance so patients can get emergency stroke care started as soon as possible. Unlike regular ambulances, the mobile stroke unit has a CT (“CAT”) scanner to diagnose a stroke, and several advanced medications to potentially treat a stroke as soon as possible.
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A stroke occurs when blood (containing oxygen and nutrients) stops flowing to the brain. When this happens, it’s only a matter of minutes before brain cells start to die and permanent damage occurs. Most strokes occur because of a blocked artery. In this case, “clot-busting” medications can help blood begin flowing to the brain again. Sometimes, a stroke can be caused by bleeding in or around the brain.
The goal of the mobile stroke unit is to give clot-busting medications to patients having certain types of strokes safely and quickly. Millions of brain cells die every minute that blood flow is blocked, and it’s only safe to give clot-busting medications shortly after the first signs of a stroke. Around the country and around the world, patients get clot-busting medications 20–30 minutes faster in the mobile stroke unit than they do if they’re taken to the hospital first.
The mobile stroke unit is like a hospital on wheels, so don’t worry if it’s staying longer than an ambulance normally would — treatment is not being delayed. Inside the mobile stroke unit, stroke experts along with nurses and paramedics are evaluating the patient, getting a CT scan and doing blood tests. If needed, clot-busting medications or other treatments are started immediately. There is no faster way to do this than right at the scene of the emergency. Once a patient begins medications, the mobile stroke unit will transport them to the hospital just like a regular ambulance.
Clot-busting medications only treat strokes caused by blockages in the blood vessels to the brain. Some types of strokes are caused by bleeding in the brain, and clot-busting medications would be dangerous to give to these patients. The CT scan can help stroke experts tell the difference between a stroke caused by blockage and a stroke caused by bleeding. Even if a patient has a blockage, it may not be safe to give them the clot-busting medication if there’s a high chance it can cause bleeding. This may include patients on blood thinners or patients whose stroke symptoms started too long ago. If the patient can’t get the clot-busting medication, the mobile stroke unit staff can deliver skilled neurological care on the way to the hospital. This may include giving special medications not kept on a regular ambulance
No. The mobile stroke unit staff will take the patient to the closest, most appropriate stroke center, which may not be a UC Health hospital. The mobile stroke unit staff will be in contact with the hospital as they are driving there, so the hospital will know what care was given on scene. This communication allows for a smooth transition of care, no matter where the patient is transported.