Recognizing Early Signs of Stroke in Children can Improve Outcomes
I thought strokes only occur in older people, not children. What exactly is a stroke?
A stroke occurs when there is poor blood flow to the brain resulting in a brain injury. This can be caused by a sudden blockage or rupture of blood vessels that supply the brain. While strokes occur less often in children than in adults, there is a wide range of risk factors in children. For example, an infant born with a heart defect can make him or her more likely to have a stroke. In fact, cardiac disease is the most common cause of stroke in childhood. If blood is too thick or prone to clotting, this can increase the risk for a child to have a stroke. Extreme dehydration or serious infection can be considered temporary risk factors for stroke. Strokes have been more readily diagnosed in children and adults thanks to advanced imaging such as MRI (magnetic resonance imaging). However, because many don’t know that strokes can happen to children, most children do not see a physician until several days or months after they have experienced symptoms.
What are some signs if a child is experiencing a stroke? There are many stroke symptoms including not being able to move or feel one side of the body or even developmental delays that may only become more obvious to parents over a period of months. Stroke symptoms that involve bleeding may include severe headaches, vomiting, and/or altered consciousness. A young infant may become lethargic or irritable. There may be other conditions that may look like a stroke too, such as a seizure or migraine. Therefore, it is important to be evaluated as soon as possible by an appropriate specialist to make the diagnosis, such as a pediatric neurologist.
What should I do if I see stroke symptoms or suspect my child has had a stroke? Early recognition and treatment of a stroke is the key to giving a child the best chance of regaining function. If you suspect that a child has had an acute stroke, call 911 immediately. What type of treatment does a child need to recover from a stroke? Once a child has been diagnosed with a stroke, he or she may need a medical team to provide care. Most children are initially hospitalized and several tests or interventions may be done to find the cause of the stroke. Physicians will try to optimize the health for each child so that a stroke does not occur again. A child’s team may include a pediatric neurologist, therapists for feeding, speech, physical or occupational needs, cardiologist, orthopedic surgeon, ophthalmologist (vision), or psychologist.
How can I find out more information about pediatric stroke? Parents are not alone when caring for a child who has suffered from a stroke. There are many online resources such as the Children’s Hemiplegia and Stroke Association and Pediatric Stroke Warriors and other community support groups.