Putting a special skin patch on a stroke patient’s arm on the way to hospital could slash their risk of dying by half, researchers have discovered.
The 39p patch contains drugs that lower blood pressure and relax veins and arteries, improving the circulation to the brain.
Experts believe it can improve survival rates and reduce the effects of a stroke dramatically if administered quickly.
In a pilot study by the University of Nottingham, patients who were given the patch by paramedics had a 16 per cent risk of dying – less than half the 38 per cent mortality rate among those not given the patch.
But the trial only involved 40 patients, so for a more reliable assessment, the team is setting up a bigger study to confirm their preliminary findings.
The major project, funded by the British Heart Foundation, will involve 850 patients, seven of England’s ten ambulance services and 47 NHS hospitals. Study leader Professor Philip Bath said: ‘We believe that by improving blood flow in the brain in stroke patients we can dramatically improve their survival chances and recovery.
‘This patch enables us to do this within minutes.’
A stroke occurs when a clot blocks an artery or there is bleeding in the brain, reducing blood flow. Rapid treatment to restore blood supply to the brain is crucial, involving either anti-clotting drugs, removal of the blockage using a wire, or surgery. But the Nottingham team discovered that administering drugs through the skin could improve blood flow before the patient arrives at hospital.
The patch – the size of a 50p – can be applied by paramedics to the shoulder or arm to deliver glyceryl trinitrate (GTN), which is usually used to treat angina and very high blood pressure.
But researchers suspected its ability to lower blood pressure could also help stroke victims.
Around 150,000 Britons have a stroke each year, a third of whom die within 12 months.
Half the survivors have paralysis, speech problems, personality changes and other disabilities. Access to a simple stop-gap treatment could also help those patients who do not receive hospital treatment quickly.
Any delay in the critical first few hours after a stroke can have a devastating effect, increasing the likelihood of the patient being permanently disabled or dying. Yet nearly 6,000 people, a twelfth of those admitted to English hospitals with a stroke last year, had to wait more than 12 hours at hospital before having their first scan.
Professor Sir Nilesh Samani, medical director at the British Heart Foundation, said: ‘Current treatment for stroke is fairly limited and patients are dying or suffering life-changing disabilities as a result.
‘If successful, this patch could revolutionise treatment.’