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Stroke (Pediatric)

What is a pediatric stroke?

A pediatric stroke occurs when blood flow to a particular area of the brain is blocked or interrupted by a blood clot or a broken blood vessel. When this happens, brain cells begin to die, sometimes resulting in brain damage.

It is a myth that strokes only affect older people—they can also happen in teenagers, children, newborns, and just before birth. In fact, stroke is among the top 10 causes of death in children.

The risk of stroke in children is greatest in the first year of life and in the time just before to just after birth. Males and African-American children are at higher risk.

The causes of stroke in adults are high blood pressure, irregular heartbeat, and hardening of the arteries, but these issues are rare in children. Strokes in children tend to be caused by:

  • abnormal clotting
  • artery disease
  • congenital heart defects
  • head or neck trauma
  • immune disorders
  • pregnancy-related high blood pressure in the mother
  • premature rupture of membrane during pregnancy
  • sickle cell disease

Pediatric strokes are also linked to a maternal history of infertility and an infection in the fluid surrounding the baby in the womb.

What are the symptoms of a pediatric stroke?

In newborns and infants, symptoms are:

  • extreme sleepiness
  • favoring one side of the body
  • seizure

In children and teens, symptoms are:

  • dizziness
  • loss of balance or coordination
  • severe headaches
  • sleepiness
  • vomiting

Children usually recover faster than adults because their brains are still growing, yet they may suffer lasting complications from a pediatric stroke, including seizures, weakness, and vision problems.

How are pediatric strokes treated?

Treatments for pediatric strokes are:

  • anti-thrombotic medications to prevent blood clots from forming (used in children but usually not for infants)
  • blood transfusions for children who also suffer from sickle cell disease.
  • control of high blood pressure
  • detection and treatment of seizures with EEG monitoring and anti-convulsant medication
  • management of intracranial pressure
  • supportive care to maintain normal body temperature, proper hydration, and normal blood sugar levels

Surgery may be performed to relieve pressure on the brain caused by hemorrhagic stroke (when blood vessels that supply the brain rupture) and less often by ischemic stroke (an obstruction of the blood vessels in the brain).