An improvement in patient arrival time to stroke unit (SU) is recommended, since earlier stroke management seems to improve 'per se' functional outcome. The objective of this study was to determine if early admission influences the outcome, reduces disability and mortality at discharge and three months later independent of tlirombolytic treatment. Consecutive acute stroke patients admitted to SU between January 1st 2000 and December 31st 2003 were studied in order to analyze the actual role of acute management independent specific pharmacological treatment, we excluded subjects who underwent rt-PA. 35.8% of 2,041 consecutive stroke patients arrived within 3 hours; 62.4% within 6 hours; 37.6% arrived later. Approximately 80% of the <6 hour patients presented a National Institutes of Health Stroke Scale (NIHSS) >4 and modified Rankin Scale (mRS) score >2 in comparison with 60% of the >6 hour patients. In hospital (8.7%) and three-month (7.3%) mortality in <3 hour patients were not significantly different from what observed in >3 hour patients (6.8% and 6.1% respectively) while functional outcome after three months was better in <3 hour patients (NIHSS: 34.6 vs 15.2; mRS: 32.9% vs 16.8%). Old age, history of TIA, cardioembolic etiology, severity of neurological deficit and hemorrhagic stroke type all led to earlier arrival time. Admission within 3 hours 'per se' improves outcome and reduced disability at three months.