Children Experience Strokes, Too

May is Pediatric Stroke Awareness Month. Many parents are unaware that strokes can affect newborns, infants, children and adolescents. Stroke affects 25 in 100,000 newborns, 12 in 100,000 children under 18 years of age, and is one of the top ten causes of death in children.

Prompt medical care is essential in order to maximize recovery. Unfortunately, because pediatric stroke often goes unrecognized, misdiagnosis is common, and proper care is delayed.

What is a Stroke?

A stroke occurs when blood flow to the brain is interrupted. There are two types of strokes – ischemic and hemorrhagic – with ischemic stroke being much more common in children and adolescents.

What are the Risks for Pediatric Stroke?

Pediatric stroke can occur at any time but is highest during a child’s first year. Boys and African-American children are at highest risk than other populations for stroke.

Common risks include:

  • Birth Defects
  • Trauma
  • Sickle Cell Disease
  • Head or Neck Trauma
  • Congenital Heart Defects
  • Abnormal Blood Clotting
  • Immune Disorders
  • Premature rupture of Membrane during Pregnancy
  • Mother’s Pregnancy-related High Blood Pressure
  • Abnormalities of Blood Vessels

What are the Symptoms of Pediatric Stroke?

Some of the specific symptoms that indicate pediatric stroke in newborns and infants include seizures, extreme sleepiness, the tendency to use only one side of the body, problems eating, trouble or pauses in breathing and developmental delays.

In children, the signs can be similar to those in adults – slurred speech, sudden weakness, and blurred vision. These symptoms vary depending on a child’s age and the damage caused to brain cells. Other symptoms include seizures, language or speech delays, behavioral changes, trouble swallowing, restricted movement in the arms and legs, memory loss and difficulty with schoolwork.

If a child experiences these symptoms, parents should call 911 or see a physician immediately.

How is Pediatric Stroke Diagnosed?

The same diagnosis that is used to detect adult stroke are used to identify pediatric stroke, including blood tests, MRIs, CT or CAT Scans, Ultrasounds and Spinal Taps.

What Treatments are Available for Pediatric Stroke?

Treatment and recovery vary according to each individual child and is determined by age, symptoms, the amount of brain damage that occurred, and on the specific medical conditions.

Because children’s brains are still forming, recovery is faster for children than adults.  However, children can experience permanent complications from a stroke, such as paralysis, slurred speech, and vision problems that are also common in adults.

More severe, life-long effects from pediatric stroke may include mental retardation, cerebral palsy, and epilepsy.

Pediatric Critical Care of  South Florida, who manages the PICU at Joe DiMaggio Children’s Hospital, has developed a Pediatric Stroke Program designed to promptly and accurately diagnose stroke in children.  The team includes neuorlogy, neurosurgery, neurointerventional, radiology, neuroradiology, hospitalist, emergency department, critical care and pediatric rehabilitation doctors.

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