Stroke is a leading cause of long-term disability in the US, affecting more than 795,000 Americans every year. But according to a new study, a drug already approved to treat epilepsy may also be effective in reducing brain damage for individuals who have ischemic stroke – the most common form of stroke.

The research team, led by Dr. Sonya Bierbower of the School of Medicine at the University of Texas (UT) Health Science Center at San Antonio, publishes its findings in The Journal of Neuroscience.

Ischemic stroke accounts for around 87% of all strokes in the US. It is caused by a blockage in the artery that supplies the brain with oxygen-rich blood.

Ischemic stroke causes death of nerve cells, or neurons, in the brain. As a result, many patients may experience partial or full paralysis, problems with memory and thinking, trouble with forming or understanding speech, balance and mobility problems, and problems expressing or controlling emotions.

While speech, physical and occupational therapy can aid recovery after stroke, the only medication approved by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) to reduce ischemic stroke-induced brain damage is tissue plasminogen activator (tPA). This is an intravenous drug that dissolves blood clots and improves blood flow to the brain.

But according to Dr. Bierbower and her team, many stroke patients are unable to receive tPA; it is a strong blood thinner that can cause severe side effects.

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