World Stroke Day: Children Can Be Victims, Too
October 29 is World Stroke Day, which was established by the World Stroke Organization in 2006 to help spread public awareness of the world’s high stroke risk and stroke prevalence.
Stroke is the number four cause of death and a leading cause of long-term disability in the U.S. and affects more than 15 million people worldwide.
In recent years, stroke has been increasingly recognized in children. Diagnosis and treatment remains to be difficult, however, due to the diversity of underlying risk factors and the absence of a uniform treatment approach.
According to journals from the American Stroke Association, finding the cause of a stroke is vital to providing the right treatment and preventing more injury. Doctors can find a cause in about two-thirds of the cases, the association reports.
Ischemic strokes, the most common type in children, are usually related to lack of oxygen during birth, sickle cell anemia or infections such as meningitis, among others. Hemorrhagic strokes can be caused by a head injury, an aneurysm or diseases that affect blood clotting.
Signs and Symptoms
Signs of stroke in children are often similar to signs in adults, which can include sudden weakness, slurred speech or blurred vision. Things to look for are seizures in one area of the body (such as an arm or leg), problems eating, trouble breathing, early preference for use of one hand over the other and developmental delays.
The most important clues that would make a doctor think of a stroke are the symptoms a child is experiencing and how the child looks. If a doctor suspects that a child’s symptoms might be caused by a stroke, there are several ways to confirm the diagnosis.
One of the most common ways to test for strokes is a head CT, a special type of X-ray that takes a photo of the brain. Another test is magnetic resonance imaging (MRI).
If doctors still need to get a closer look at the arteries that feed the brain, there are several tests that can be run. A transcranial Doppler uses ultrasound waves to look at the blood flowing through the arteries in the brain or an angiogram uses X-rays to take more detailed photos of the arteries in the back of the neck and head.
Treatment for stroke is determined by how old the child is, what signs and symptoms he or she experiences, which area of the brain is affected, how much brain tissue was damaged and whether an ongoing condition was the cause of the stroke.
At this time, no treatment exists that will fix brain cells that have died. Fortunately, the brain has other ways of responding to an injury. Undamaged brain cells can learn to perform the jobs of cells that have died, “pitching in” and taking over the job the injured part of the brain used to do.
While retraining the brain is slow and difficult, neurorehabilitation is vital and efficient in treating children after a stroke has occurred. Neurorehabilitation includes many different therapies, such as physical or speech therapy, that are selected to treat individual symptoms.
Other treatment options are specific to the individual child. For example, a child who has seizures because of a stroke might need anti-seizure medication. Some might need to take blood-thinning medications.
Most children who have had strokes are able to function normally in society and grow to be productive members of their communities.