Tissue plasminogen activator for ischaemic stroke: highly effective, reasonably safe and grossly underused

Stephen M Davis, Peter J Hand and Geoffrey A Donnan
Med J Aust 2007; 187 (10): . || doi: 10.5694/j.1326-5377.2007.tb01412.x
Published online: 19 November 2007

Australian health systems must rise to the challenge of providing thrombolysis to more stroke patients

The substantial benefits and relative safety of tissue plasminogen activator (tPA) for acute ischaemic stroke within 3 hours of symptom onset have been accepted by stroke clinicians around the world.1 It is one of the most effective treatments in acute medicine, with a 30% increase in excellent outcomes and a “number needed to treat” for clinical improvement as low as three patients.2 A European register of 6483 patients (SITS-MOST, Safe Implementation of Thrombolysis in Stroke Monitoring Study) indicated that tPA is safe and effective, even when used in relatively inexperienced centres.3 The clinical benefits overwhelm a small rate of bleeding complications, chiefly symptomatic haemorrhagic transformation of the infarct. The rate of symptomatic intracerebral haemorrhage was actually lower in this large register than in the earlier randomised clinical trials.3 Small Australian tPA audits have confirmed these conclusions.4,5 Based on level 1 evidence, the therapy was licensed in Australia in 2003, and is recommended in Australian, North American and European stroke guidelines.6 However, despite this overwhelming information, probably some thousands of Australian patients are effectively denied tPA each year.7 This is a major challenge for our health system.

  • Stephen M Davis1
  • Peter J Hand1
  • Geoffrey A Donnan2

  • 1 Department of Neurology, Melbourne Neuroscience Centre, Melbourne, VIC.
  • 2 National Stroke Research Institute, Melbourne, VIC.


Competing interests:

Stephen Davis has provided advice and given lectures on behalf of Sanofi-Aventis, Bristol-Myers Squibb, Pfizer and Boehringer Ingelheim. He is on the steering committees for Novo Nordisk, and SAINT (AstraZeneca) trials. Peter Hand is a member of the Boehringer Ingelheim National Advisory Board, and has received honoraria for various talks from Boehringer Ingelheim, Sanofi-Aventis, Pfizer, and Bristol-Myers Squibb. Geoffrey Donnan has provided advice to a number of pharmaceutical companies as a member of scientific advisory boards and has received honoraria for various presentations at international scientific meetings.


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