Children & Stroke
Even though it seems unthinkable, children can have strokes, too. Adult strokes are often caused by high blood pressure, high cholesterol, a history of smoking, too much alcohol and obesity. Children’s strokes, on the other hand, are often caused by birth defects, infections (e.g. meningitis, encephalitis), trauma, and blood disorders such as sickle cell disease.
Children who have suffered a stroke may often have problems with speech and communication (aphasia and dysphagia) as well as visual problems such as trouble with visual perception. There are stroke-related disabilities that are unique to children such as cerebral palsy, mental retardation and epilepsy.
Some common complications for children who have suffered a stroke are: fever, change of mental status (i.e.- loss of emotional control; changes in memory, judgment or problem solving); changes in behavior such as improper language or actions; poor nutrition and conditions that result from prolonged bedrest.
20 – 35% of infant stroke survivors will go on to have another stroke, and more than two-thirds of survivors will have cognitive deficits, physical disabilities that require therapy, or seizures treated by medication or surgery.
There is good news. While strokes in children can be devastating, children have a better ability to heal than an adult. A child’s brain is still developing and may have a greater ability to repair itself. With the help of physical and speech therapy, most childhood stroke survivors recover the use of their arms, legs and speech.
Signs and symptoms of childhood stroke:
- Severe headache- this is often the first complaint
- Nausea and/or vomiting/ warm, flushed, clammy skin
- Slow, full pulse – may have distended neck veins
- Speech difficulties- absent, slurred or inappropriate speech
- Eye movement problems – partial or complete blindness, blurred vision, unequal pupils
- Numbness – paralysis, weakness, or loss of coordination of limbs, usually on one side of the body; loss of balance
- Facial droop or salivary drool
- Urinary incontinence
- Brief loss of consciousness; unconscious ‘snoring’ respirations
- May show signs of rapid recovery (TIA)
What can you do to help to help control your child’s risk factors for stroke?
You can’t control certain risk factors for heart disease and stroke such as age, sex, race and family medical history but there are other risk factors you can control, treat or prevent:
- Smoking and exposure to tobacco smoke. Smoking is a hard habit to break, that’s why it’s important that your children never start. The earlier people start smoking, the greater the risk to their future health. Set a good example for your children by not smoking. If you do smoke, don’t smoke around your children. Get help to quit smoking. Your risk of heart disease and stroke decrease as soon as you stop smoking.
- Physical inactivity. Keeping your children active and fit will help them control their weight and blood cholesterol levels, and lower their risk for developing diabetes and obesity. If your child is overweight encourage daily activities, starting with 10 minutes per day and adding more each day. Limit the amount of time your child spends being inactive, such as watching television, playing on the computer, etc, to no more than one to two hours per day.
- Eating a diet low in saturated fat and cholesterol. Read food labels and choose foods that heart healthy. For example, choose lower fat milk, eat more fruits and vegetables, and include more servings of whole-grains or other complex carbohydrates in your child’s diet.
- High Blood Pressure (hypertension). High blood pressure causes the heart to work harder than normal and over time this can lead to heart failure or stroke. Children with high blood pressure often have no symptoms. They can look and feel great without even knowing they have hypertension. Make sure that your child’s blood pressure is measured yearly beginning at age 3 by a doctor, school nurse or local health clinic staff.
- Diabetes Mellitus. Diabetes is a disease in which the body doesn’t make or respond properly to the hormone insulin, which the body needs to convert sugar, starches and other foods into energy. Untreated diabetes can lead to many serious medical problems including heart and blood vessel disease. If your child has diabetes make sure that he/she has regular medical check ups to control it; work with your child’s doctor to improve your child’s eating habits and ensure that he/she exercises regularly and maintains a healthy weight.