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Pediatric Stroke and Cerebral Palsy

By John Lehman

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Most people think strokes affect only adults, but they can also occur in children, even before birth. In fact, pediatric stroke is one of the leading causes of death in children. Children who have suffered from a pediatric stroke also have a high chance of developing cerebral palsy. Like cerebral palsy, pediatric stroke is best treated as early as possible to help reduce its side effects and the chance of one occurring again.

Types of Pediatric Stroke

For both children and adults, strokes generally fall into two categories: hemorrhagic and ischemic (though there are many different types of strokes). Hemorrhagic strokes occur when a blood vessel in the brain bursts, resulting in a hemorrhage. Ischemic strokes are usually the result of arteries being blocked by blood clots. While adults are more likely to have ischemic strokes than hemorrhagic, children are equally at risk for both of these types of stroke.

Causes

Regardless of the type, it is often difficult for doctors to determine an exact cause for pediatric stroke. Research has revealed common risk factors that can increase the likelihood of a stroke occurring including:

  • Heart conditions
  • Blood disorders

Children with sickle cell disease have a 10 percent chance of suffering from an Ischemic stroke. Hemorrhagic strokes can result from an Arteriovenous Malformation (AVM) or from hemophilia. Roughly 11 out of 100,000 children will suffer a stroke before their 18th birthday, with the greatest risk occurring during the first year of their life.

Signs and Symptoms

Since most pediatric strokes occur in young children less than a year old, they may lack the appropriate communication skills to let you know they need help. Therefore, it falls upon the parent to know the warning signs. For newborns in particular, seizures can be an indication of a pediatric stroke. If the child is old enough to speak coherently, he or she may suddenly begin slurring words and have difficulty speaking. They may also complain about sudden and severe headaches, difficulty maintaining balance or blurred vision, all of which could indicate a stroke.

Treating a Pediatric Stroke

Once a child has had a stroke, there are several treatments available to help reduce the chance of a another stroke occurring. In some cases, medications are taken to prevent overgrown blood clots. In other cases, surgery can be performed to relieve blood pressure on the brain or to remove build up in the arteries. Although many adults take tPA compounds to treat stroke, its use for children is the subject of some controversy.  Talk to your doctor about which treatment may best suit your child’s needs.

Relationship to Cerebral Palsy

Children who have suffered from pediatric stroke have a chance of developing hemiplegia, a spastic form of cerebral palsy that typically renders one side of a child’s body weakened or paralyzed. Other effects of hemiplegia include issues with attention, memory, speech, seizures and mood swings. Like other forms of cerebral palsy, there are many treatment options available to improve your child’s condition and quality of life.

Pediatric strokes can be a frightening experience for both you and your child. Although they may face long-term challenges, the majority of children affected by stroke adapt well and will go on to live long and healthy lives.

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Resources:

National Stroke Association

American Heart Association/American Stroke Association

Children’s Hemiplegia and Stroke Association

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